Food & Drink

Sean Derfield, owner of two Sacramento bars, gradually healing after light-rail collision

Video: Sean Derfield, owner of Der BierGarten and River City Saloon, on the mend

Der BierGarten and River City Saloon owner Sean Derfield and wife Erika, a first-grade teacher, discuss the early moments after he was struck by a light rail train and what he learned while lying in the hospital.
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Der BierGarten and River City Saloon owner Sean Derfield and wife Erika, a first-grade teacher, discuss the early moments after he was struck by a light rail train and what he learned while lying in the hospital.

It was close to noon on May 22, and popular bar owner Sean Derfield was working hard, heading from his River City Saloon in Old Sacramento to midtown’s Der BierGarten.

He never made it. And he said he has no idea what triggered the ordeal that nearly claimed his life.

It took rescue workers 20 minutes to cut the top off his mangled truck and get him to the hospital. It has taken months to get his mangled body back to normal, and recovery remains a work in progress. When his wife, Erika, first saw him at the hospital, it looked as if his left leg was facing the wrong way – his femur had snapped in half and would require surgery. His spine was banged up. And he said he’s still struggling with short-term memory loss from the brain injury he suffered.

Derfield made the news that day because his mishap was very public. Somehow, he drove through the intersection at J and Seventh streets and was struck by a light rail train. Police say a video camera suggests Derfield ran a red light, but Derfield maintains he has always been a safe driver and can’t fathom doing such a thing. All these months later, he and his lawyer are still trying to work out what actually happened and still hoping eyewitnesses come forward to explain what they saw.

“If I’m at fault, I’m at fault. But I’ve never had an accident, and I find it hard to believe I would run a red light,” he said.

Beyond that, Derfield knows what the future looks like. Once he began to heal and his mind cleared, he took stock of his life and decided to make serious changes. In addition to the saloon and bustling beer bar, Derfield owns the shooting arcade River City Shooting Gallery. Erika Derfield, a first-grade teacher at Cosumnes River Elementary in Sloughhouse, does the books for the three businesses.

“In the hospital, I told her that working 85 hours a week is over. Owning three businesses, you’re constantly going 24/7. But that’s why I have employees and I never used them to the fullest extent,” Sean said. “I need to delegate more and enjoy life, take more vacations and stop saving the money for that rainy day.”

Added Erika, “We’re both really busy. ‘Work hard, play hard’ was our motto. We’ve had a lot of conversations that life is too short and we need to enjoy our lives because you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Once he got out of the hospital, Sean had a long road to recovery. He had to wear a heavy-duty neck brace around the clock and had a feeding tube though his nose. Due to his brain injury, he was unable to swallow properly until recently.

These days, the brace and the feeding tube are going. He was never cited in the accident and got the OK to drive again. But that pledge to work less has been a challenge. When two managers took time off to travel recently, he said he personally picked up the slack and found himself working longer hours once more. He says he’s determined to stick to his guns and not be so consumed by work.

For a time after the accident, his wife was concerned that the brain injury would mean the playful, humorous man she knew and loved would never completely return, that her husband might forever be saddled with memory and cognitive issues. But that’s gradually changing, she said.

“At one point in the hospital, I said, ‘Hey, you made the front page of the Sac Bee (website). He said, ‘Was I wearing my BierGarten shirt?’ That’s when I knew he was back,” she said, laughing.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob

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