One man’s courage and his family’s triumph over unspeakable tragedy

For Sarah Krueger, it was the best of times.

Beloved at work, she was blessed with a beautiful family. At 46, she was very radiant, had a loving husband and seemingly, life couldn’t get much better.

Even when Sarah had to work, she was totally engaged with her family. As an example, her husband Larry was instructed to text her a play by play of their daughter’s water polo matches.

She loved and nurtured each of her three children.

For more than two decades she had worked in the labor and delivery wards of Long Beach Memorial Hospital in Long Beach. “We all loved Sarah,” said fellow nurse Kathy Tyo. Over her career, Sarah, a registered nurse, had lovingly cared for hundreds of moms and babies in the Seal Beach and Long Beach communities.

On the morning of August 11, 2017, Sarah carefully put on her walking clothes, stepped out of their Catalina Avenue home for her morning walk.

At 11:05 a.m., everything changed forever. Although the accident is still under investigation, Sarah was within 5 to 10 minutes of returning to their Seal Beach home when she entered the crosswalk at 12th Street and PCH.

In an instant, a vehicle being driven by one of her neighbors, slammed into her.

Emergency personnel said Sarah went into cardiac arrest and she was rushed to the same hospital where she worked for more than two decades, Long Beach Memorial.

Tragically, minutes later, she died within the walls she had loved so much.

Her family was stunned, her friends in shock. Colleagues expressed disbelief. A slow and silent pall traveled with the news throughout the communities that loved her.

Even now, it seems hard for many to finally come to grips with the tragedy of Sarah Krueger’s death. Council member Ellery Deaton said then that Sarah’s death had caused a “pervasive sadness” in Seal Beach.

The accident is still under investigation and, as of yet, no charges filed.

Nevertheless, residents are still struggling to convince Caltrans to better mark the intersection crosswalk with electronic signals.

By the time the family got back from the hospital, crowds had begun to gather. “Everyone showed up,” remembers Larry Krueger, Sarah’s husband of 16 years. Almost immediately, a street shrine popped up at the scene of the accident.

Wading through their disbelief and grief, the family began immediately to plan a “walk” so that friends could finish Sarah’s final walk for her. Eight days after the accident, more than 2,000 people showed up to walk for Sarah, astonishing everyone, including CBS News.

It was at once obvious that Sarah’s life had touched the heartstrings of many in nearby communities. Almost as if in sad irony, many of the babies Sarah had once delivered were now old enough to walk in her honor.

After she lost her life, her legacy began to emerge. Quickly, It became evident to her family and many in the community how deeply respected and loved she was.

Her legacy was so large that, ironically, her sudden and tragic death brought to life many challenges and new perspectives that have given her family a framework to recover.

Sarah’s life had been touched by tragedy as well, losing her mom to cancer when she was just 13.

“Through that loss, Sarah evolved into a beautiful, wonderful woman,” recalls her husband Lorenz (Larry) Krueger who sat down with the Sun to reveal how he, and his family, are trying to cope with the tragedy.

Had she lived, Sarah would have celebrated her 47th birthday this week (April 30). Instead, friends and family were happy to remember her good works and giving spirit. While hard for everyone who loved her, the week is especially difficult for Larry, as the fond memories weave their way back into his thoughts; only to be met by competing thoughts about why this has happened.

Krueger, a communications professor, is on sabbatical leave from his teaching job at Cal State University, Long Beach. He understands why it is so hard to let go.  “All of us have ingrained emotional connections to other human beings that do not change because of a tragedy,” he said. Yet, as a husband, it is still hard for him to rationalize and deal with the emotional pain and harm to the psyche.

He misses everything, especially the little things like Sarah saying “thank you honey, I appreciate it” after coming home from a 12-hour day at the hospital to find Larry had cleaned the kitchen and washed the laundry. “I don’t have that anymore,” he says, looking down. He goes to the mailbox and still finds correspondence addressed to Sarah Krueger. “She’s not here,” he thinks to himself.

Moreover, the overflowing of emotion and assistance that the family enjoyed after the accident is now largely gone. For the most part, “the phone stopped ringing,” he said, “but I’m okay with it.”

Krueger is still amazed, and extremely gratified, by the massive show of emotion and support he received from the community following Sarah’s death.

“It was an unbelievable outpouring of love that came from these communities for our family,” he said, adding that it was great to know that “they in some way wanted to repay the goodness she had extended to them.

But when the kids are busy, he’s left alone, in silence, with his thoughts and books.  “I miss my wife,” he says, “I miss her every day.”

Although Krueger understands life has to somehow return to normal, it hasn’t been easy. “I don’t really know how I’m doing,” he said. “I’m stable,” he nods, saying he’s learning how to process the tragedy through a combination of advice and support from friends, books and an ad-hoc support group of new friends who have recently lost their spouses.  “I’m learning how to cope,” he said. “Anger is part of the process. It comes and goes. I’m not angry but can be irritable,” he said. “I do get frustrated,” he added.

Just when things were beginning to improve for Krueger, however, tragedy struck again. His father Larry, who was a pillar of emotional support, passed away somewhat unexpectedly after a brief illness a couple of months ago.

“Really God?” Krueger thought to himself. “It’s almost more than one human can handle,” he says.

Now, not only must Krueger deal with losing his wife, he had to deal with his father’s death as well. “I still have death chores every day,” said Krueger, dealing with hospitals, insurance companies, etc.

Today, there is a neatly arranged line of recently purchased books in the living room. Dealing with all of it “becomes a very big challenge,” he said, “I need to keep hope alive.”

His routine continues every day. Slowly, through all of this, however, Krueger is beginning to understand that, perhaps, “God has a bigger plan for me.” He said thankfully, that this revelation was “a drink of cold water in a very hot desert. I’m tired,” he said, “I’m tired.”

“What you have to do is remake your world to what it should be,” says Krueger. In death, Sarah has, of sorts, given Larry a new life. Her amazing example is not lost on his own legacy. “I know now that I have to remake myself in a way important to our community,” he said. “All of us have to learn to make an impact,” adds Krueger.

“I want to do things for other people. How I do things for other people in this community that makes who I am important to the community,” claims Krueger. “Tragedies are all around us. For those most hurt and devastated in this community, I want to talk to you,” says Krueger. “Seriously,” I want to help other people who are hurting.”

Though no longer on earth, Sarah is not finished with him yet.  He’s learning to live without her, but he’s made adjustments to himself and his life. He truly wants to help other people, and not just with lip service. He has felt the pain of reality as the meaning of life was thrust, without warning, upon him. Krueger wants to give back before reality strikes again.

Krueger has already made arrangements to ensure Sarah will never be forgotten in this community. Thousands of people from nearby communities have shown their support by completing her walk and donating more than $30,000 to a nonprofit foundation account in her honor. The foundation, will award grants to community projects of good works, says Krueger.

Accordingly, Krueger does not communicate with nor dwell on his neighbor involved in the accident, saying the investigation and legal process is still underway.  “He’s suffering too.” Krueger is however determined to have Caltrans and the city of Seal Beach provide better signage and electronic protection at the crosswalk where Sarah died.

“I’m going to get through this. My kids will get through this,” he says as he opens up with pride as he begins to discuss how his three children, Hailey (Fernandez), 21, Camryn, 16, and Carson, 14, have coped with losing their mother.

Grief counselors have told him that above all else, you “have to keep your home a safe place for your kids.”

Since the accident, Krueger has had to assume the parental role of both parents, and that obviously keeps him extremely busy. Camryn, just got her driver’s permit, but before that, “I spent much of my days running kids between practices, sometimes cooking and dad stuff” he said.

Krueger smiles as he begins to remember the ways he has felt Sarah’s presence since the accident, like the single cloud and two hours of lightning strikes “on her way to heaven” and a single butterfly that landed on Hailey’s shoulder on a cruise. “They don’t have butterflies in the middle of the ocean,” he said with a quizzical smile.

Through all the grief, Larry Krueger is slowly rediscovering himself. Some of his days are bad, but even on those days his hurt is softened by the calming presences available to him by remembering Sarah’s heartfelt legacy. Krueger is a heartbroken survivor, only now accompanied by Sarah’s beautiful soul.

His inward reflection for nearly nine months has taught him not only how to cope, but that living by Sarah’s example is perhaps the most effective therapy of all.

Next Week: The Sun will profile the adjustments made by Sarah’s children in the wake of their mom’s death and the steadfast remembrance by Sarah’s friends and co-workers, who marched through Seal Beach on Wednesday in memoriam to celebrate Sarah’s 47th birthday.