Young widower says family, friends, faith help him cope

12/23/2011 12:00 AM

03/19/2012 8:14 PM

On June 16, as the sun beat down on a Bahamas beach, honeymooners Victor and Crystal Rodriguez strapped on their harnesses and parasailed above the ocean. Moments later, the life they had planned together snapped.

The mid-morning excursion had been Crystal's idea – she had always been adventurous – and soon they were floating side by side about 200 feet above the water. Ten minutes into their $80 ride, they felt a tug at their straps.

"What was that?" Victor asked.

"It was probably just the wind," his wife answered.

Those were the last words he remembers. The couple plunged into the ocean and Crystal was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Victor is 23, a widower who faces bankruptcy, potential legal action against the parasailing company and more than $100,000 in medical bills. Every day, he grieves the loss of his wife and their life together.

Christmas without her will be difficult. He plans to spend the holiday with his family.

He has every reason to be depressed or angry. But he is not. He has his difficult days when he can't get out of bed, but he has been strong, said those closest to him. His memories of his wife, his strong support system and his faith sustain him. He has hope.

"Knowing Crystal found faith gives me peace," Victor said in his first interview since the accident. "It sucks for me because I thought we were going to spend the next 60 years together, but when I think of her in heaven, having a good time, I rest easy. Really."

Last week, Victor stood in the indoor softball complex in Roseville where he plays every week with his friends on a team called "Average Joes." His nickname, "The Closer" – given to him for his pitching ability – was etched on the back of his blue uniform.

He appeared to know almost everybody and was on a first-name basis with many.

He first saw Crystal Andrews on a softball field.

Victor was 18, working at a Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop. A co-worker, Sarah Bianci, talked frequently about her friend and all the good times they had. About a month later, he and Bianci were playing on the Mr. Pickles softball team when he spotted a petite brunette in the stands. "Please tell me that's your friend," he told Bianci.

It was, and the two hit it off. From the beginning, faith was an important part of their relationship, said Victor. He was raised in a Christian household and faith had always been a part of his life. He attended Victory Christian School in Carmichael and Bayside Church in Roseville with his family.

Crystal was not raised in a religious home, but after the two started dating, she became interested in learning about Christianity.

"We would meet for lunch and I'd answer her questions," said Jeanne Rodriguez, Victor's mother. "She was very dedicated and wanted to learn more about the Lord."

Crystal was eventually baptized. She and Victor attended church together. "She was a new Christian and she was, as we say, on fire for the Lord," Victor said.

Making plans

In 2010, the two went with friends to Dillon Beach over the Fourth of July weekend. On a warm night out on the dunes, he proposed.

The two began planning their wedding and life together.

Rain was forecast for their June 4 wedding. Two days before the ceremony, they changed the venue from a private home to Valley Springs Presbyterian Church in Roseville. Since both were big sports fans, they chose the San Jose Sharks' colors for their wedding: Bridesmaids wore teal.

The couple paid for the $8,000 wedding themselves. Both were students and worked seven jobs between them. They did not have medical insurance.

By the time the wedding came around, they were ready for a break and headed to the Bahamas. They parasailed on the last day of their honeymoon.

Victor does not remember the impact. All he recalls is waking up in the hospital, asking about his wife. Doctors told him she was in another room. He was in and out of consciousness.

He learned about his wife the next day. "When we heard Crystal had died, our hearts broke," Jeanne said. She and her husband, Ruben, flew to be with their son. "By then, Victor knew. All we could do was cry and pray together."

Victor suffered numerous internal injuries including a lacerated liver and spleen and six broken ribs. He spent five weeks in and out of hospitals. He did not break any other bones.

"The doctors couldn't believe it," he said. "They said it was a miracle."

'Our time was perfect'

Victor has nearly recovered physically but he is still dealing with the financial aftermath. After the accident, the community rallied to help. Donations and fundraising totaled nearly $90,000 but his medical bills totaled about $200,000.

"I never expected that kind of support and I am so thankful. It really helped me cope knowing that there are a lot of good people, " he said. "Unfortunately, I have a lot of bills."

He is back working two part-time jobs but is contemplating bankruptcy. "I may not have a choice," he said.

Victor works at Sunrise Recreation and Park District as a recreation coordinator and is a locker room attendant for the Sacramento Kings. Next month, he starts as assistant baseball coach at the Casa Roble High School team, his wife's former high school. This is his way of being close to Crystal. "She loved it there," he said.

In January, he will also start classes at William Jessup University. "I don't know where God is leading me, but it's important for me to go to a Christian college," he said.

Victor said he holds no bitterness. "In a way, I feel lucky, not everyone meets their soulmate. I met mine and our time together was perfect."

His friends said he is getting stronger every day. "Physically, he's gotten a lot better," said Chris Andrews. "But mentally, he's taking it day by day."

Police in the Bahamas are investigating Ocean Motion Watersports Ltd., the parasailing company that owns the equipment used by the couple. Victor is also considering legal action.

After dealing with a crisis like this, he said, he tries not to let legal issues and medical bills consume him. He wants to move on.

On their anniversary in June, he will head to Dillon Beach again. There, on the beach where he proposed, he will spread his wife's ashes.

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