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  • José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Chris Daniels, center, embraces his daughter Sydney on Monday night at a candlelight vigil for Christian Daniels at Whitney High School. Christian Daniels was a star football receiver who revised his college and career goals following a knee injury.

  • Ailene Voisin

  • Gary Jones / thewinningshot.com

    Christian Daniels, 18, died Saturday in a motorcycle accident near Newcastle.

Ailene Voisin: Crash ends dreams of young Rocklin sports star

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 - 12:09 am

Christian Daniels knew what he was. At 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, with a bum left knee and assorted aches, he was a Whitney High School football star forced to dream other dreams. And so he made other plans. If he couldn't catch passes, he would say, then he would catch the bad guys.

The ROTC program. A degree from Sacramento State. A career in the special forces. A few more years living in Rocklin with his parents, two siblings and extended family members, including grandparents who spoke only Cambodian. That was the revised script.

It will never happen, not any of it.

Daniels, 18, died Saturday in a motorcycle accident on a narrow, winding section of Route 193 near Newcastle. Though it's unclear whether he was speeding or simply lost control of his blue Honda Shadow, the initial California Highway Patrol report indicates that he crossed the double yellow line and struck an oncoming pickup truck.

His death – which occurred on impact – continues to reverberate throughout Rocklin, a community known for its sprawling housing developments, good schools and safe neighborhoods, and sports programs that forge bonds among residents of all ages.

Almost 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil Monday night in the Wildcat football stadium. An overflow crowd is expected for Friday's 2 p.m. memorial service in the school gym. Neighbors, relatives, friends, and students have continued visiting the Daniels family throughout the week, offering food and condolences, dropping off videos, shedding tears and sharing hugs.

"We moved here from San Jose 10 years ago because we wanted a better life for our kids," said Sokha Daniels, a self- described "soccer mom" who came to the United States from Cambodia in 1981. "When we came to California, we picked grapes, jalapenos, cucumbers. I told my kids, 'You have it easier.' You have all this … an amazing neighborhood. Most of us have known each other for years because of soccer, football, cheer (cheerleading). And, my boy, Christian, he had such a huge heart. We called him 'Little Bear' because he was small, but fast and strong."

During a two-hour conversation Tuesday at the sprawling, five-bedroom Daniels home in a quiet cul-de-sac, many of those closest to Christian crowded into the living room and reminisced. With smiles and through tears, at times clinging to each other, they described a young man who was close with his family, among them siblings Julia, 21, and Sydney, 12, and dozens of cousins.

Christian understood enough Cambodian to converse with his grandparents, Sokha Daniels said, adding that he was intensely proud of his heritage. A large Cambodian flag stretches across the wall behind his bed, dominating the sort of messy bedroom so typical of teenagers. A brown leather jacket is crumpled on the bed. A pair of jeans rests on the closet floor. A pile of clean underwear occupies a laundry bin, waiting to be folded.

Daniels' enduring passion – sports, sports, sports – is evident from the dozens of jerseys hanging in his closet, including a No. 15 uniform worn by the 49ers' Michael Crabtree. While he darted between sports, adapting with the seasons, football was his preference in high school. Aided by a growth spurt after his sophomore season, Daniels developed into a major threat late in his junior year.

"Christian was my favorite receiver," said Bee All-Metro quarterback Jake Rodrigues, now a freshman at University of Oregon. "I just knew he was going to catch the ball and do something with it. He was real shifty and hard to bring down, and he had a huge heart."

Daniels, who also played on special teams and kicked off when the Wildcats' normal kicker was hurt, enjoyed his most memorable performance his senior season against rival Rocklin. Teaming again with the prolific Rodrigues, he grabbed three touchdown passes and ran for another score, earning a plaque as the Wildcats' outstanding performer.

A few weeks later, he complained about a sore knee and underwent surgery to remove torn cartilage, essentially ending any scholarship prospects.

"That really hurt him because he had thoughts about going on (in college)," said Wildcats football coach Mike Gimenez, "and he had really been playing awesome. He was our star receiver. But it's like I told Christian later: 'You'll do fine no matter what you decide.' "

After overcoming his initial disappointment, Daniels began pursuing other interests, including motorcycles. Though discouraged by his parents, he bought the Honda Shadow with tips he earned working as a busboy at a local restaurant. His close friend and next-door neighbor, Roger Delany, already in the ROTC program at Sac State, returned from basic training and also bought a bike.

On that fateful evening, Delany was riding a few miles behind and didn't see the collision. He remembers making the turn and coming upon the carnage, then rushing over to his friend.

"I just started yelling at Christian to wake up," Delany said, adding softly: "I plan on selling my bike."

A parent's worst nightmare thus began. The distraught Delany contacted his parents, who called Chris Daniels and told him there had been accident, and that Christian was pinned underneath a pickup. With a sense of foreboding, Chris Daniels immediately called Roger, asking only for specific directions to the crash site.

"Christian was gone when we got there, and fortunately, they (Highway Patrol officers) recommended we not see him," Chris Daniels continued. "Your instinct is to want to see him, to touch him. But they told us to remember him like he was."

Nonetheless, Chris and Sokha want the details. This is a family that shares everything, at times grabs blankets and pillows and sleeps on the living room floor, per what Sokha says is a typical Cambodian custom. They want to know if their son was speeding, if he simply lost control or if other factors contributed, though nothing in the final report, they say, can change anything.

But for now, they take comfort in the warm, affectionate embrace of their community, in the fond memories and enduring anecdotes, and in the belief that their son knew how much he was loved.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



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