Disneyland trip ends in tragedy with car accident on I-5

Whitney High School student in ICU in Fresno after family SUV flips over
By: Lauren Gibbs, The Placer Herald
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A non-contact hit-and-run accident April 2 has left the Retz/Novak family of Rocklin hoping for a fast recovery for 16-year-old Sarah Novak. Brian Retz, a Rocklin father, was driving northbound on Interstate 5 near Coalinga at approximately 12:20 p.m. April 2. The driver of another car, a maroon Volvo sedan, allegedly changed lanes directly in front of the Chevrolet Suburban Retz was driving, according to California Highway Patrol spokesman Kenneth Antonetti. Retz swerved to avoid the sedan, drove into the median and the Suburban overturned, Antonetti said. Four of the six passengers, including 16-year-old Sarah Novak, 14-year-old Jenny Novak and their 7-year-old step brother Hunter Retz, were ejected from their sport utility vehicle. Sarah’s boyfriend, 17-year-old Matthew Smithson was also ejected from the vehicle. All suffered injuries and were taken to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. According to the accident report, at least two of the passengers ejected were not wearing their seatbelts, Antonetti said. Antonetti said Smithson told investigators that he and Sarah were not wearing seatbelts. If seatbelts are worn correctly, Antonetti said it is “uncommon” for a passenger to be ejected from the car in an accident. “The likelihood of being ejected is very slim,” he said. There may be other factors to a passenger being ejected from a vehicle if wearing seatbelts, including reclining in the seat, not sitting upright or only having a lap belt fastened, Antonetti said. The group was driving back home from Disneyland when the accident happened. Sarah is the only family member that remains in the hospital. She remains in the Intensive Care Unit for brain swelling, a compound fracture in her arm, a broken leg and an extremely damaged hip and pelvis, according to Brandi Bustos, a neighbor of the family and appointed family spokeswoman. Bustos said Sarah is starting to become more alert, opening her eyes and responding with a head nod or a squeeze of her hand. “She’s doing really good,” Bustos said. But the recovery time is unknown, as Sarah was in a medically induced coma for a few days. Hunter and Jenny are back home in Rocklin with Brian Retz. Hunter suffered a concussion, a broken clavicle and bruised lungs and was able to return to school at Rock Creek Elementary this week. Jenny remains semi-immobile after a compound fracture in her right arm and a broken pelvis, Bustos said. Brian and Denise Retzs’ injuries were minimal, with only scratches and bruises, Bustos said. Denise Retz remains in Fresno, living in a donated RV, keeping close to Sarah. “She’s the typical mom,” Bustos said. “It’s a struggle for her because she feels so helpless.” The family has lots of support from family and friends through meals, positive thoughts and messages on their CaringBridge Web site and donations. Over the weekend, neighbors held a garage sale where more than $500 was raised for the Retz/Novak family. The soccer community is also looking at holding fundraisers in the future as more monetary needs arise, Bustos said. “Words just can’t express how thankful they are to everyone … to the prayers, keep them coming,” Bustos said. “All of Rocklin has been wonderful.” Donations are being accepted at The Stanford Mechanics Bank in Rocklin. People can drop off or mail donations to Manager Jackie Barolucci at the bank, 6200 Stanford Ranch Road, Ste. 100, Rocklin, CA 95765. Checks can be made to the Retz/Novak family. For more information, contact Jackie Bartolucci at 782-8302 or To follow updates on Sarah’s progress, go to Anyone with information regarding the accident is asked to contact CHP at (559) 935-2093.