Student gets scholarship from 2 men linked by tragedy

Steve Beck was the first to spot the overturned garbage truck in the Green River Gorge on that cold day in November 2006.

Beck and his partner Bill Kombol were driving to a development project when they came across the still-smoldering wreckage.

Over the next few minutes, the pair would lead a desperate attempt to save the driver’s life.

Ultimately, the day would end in tragedy. But Beck and Kombol weren’t ready to walk away from the life Celio Penamante, a complete stranger to them, had left behind.

Penamante, 31, had a wife and a 2-year-old daughter.

Celio Penamante with his daughter Alana. Karla McKernan

“When something affects you like that, you kind of want to fix it,” Kombol said. “We just thought, you know, this girl was growing up without a father.”

Kombol and Beck made a wish. They would secretly keep an eye on the girl from afar and one day, somehow, they would help her. And so they began to set aside money from various business ventures.

In May, more than 15 years after that horrible day in the Green River Gorge, they delivered on that pledge.

In the gorges

Today, a wooden cross bearing Penamante’s name, a helmet and a rosary mark the spot where the young father crashed.

On this day in 2006, Kombol and Beck looked into the cabin of the wrecked truck after rolling down a hill. It was empty.

“And then I hear a moan,” Kombol recalls.

Businessmen threw boxes and debris until they found Penamante. He was lying on his back. A frightening amount of blood was flowing from her femoral artery.

Kombol, who had undergone extensive first aid training, immediately applied pressure to the wound. Beck dialed 911 but was unable to get a signal. While Kombol took care of Penamante, Beck went to Black Diamond, just two miles away.

“I was going, probably between 90 and 100, at least,” Beck said. He stopped in front of City Hall, where he was finally able to notify the authorities.

At the crash site, Penamante was mostly unresponsive.

“I just try to comfort him,” Kombol recalled. “I just tell him, ‘It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.’ ”

When Beck returned to the scene, Kombol told him to keep Penamante on alert.

“So I was yelling at him,” Beck said. Then he tried to talk to her.

” I’ve watched it. I said, ‘Do you play football?’ recalls Beck. “Bill kind of looked at me for a second, like, ‘Why did you ask him that?'”

Penamante answered the question but everything he said was unintelligible.

Doctors arrived minutes later and took over Penamante’s care, but he died shortly afterwards.

A day later, Beck received a call from Penamante’s parents. They wanted to hear about their son’s final moments. When they met, he told them about the football question he asked their son.

“Oh boy, the mom just started…I mean, she got emotional,” Beck said. Penamante had played football at Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way. As an adult, he coached soccer at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.

A Father’s Legacy

Alana Penamante has her father’s smile. It’s that smile, says Alana’s mother and Celio’s widow, Karla McKernan, it was his trademark.

“He was the kind of person who always had a big smile on his face,” McKernan said. “Everyone loved him. People were just drawn to him because of his humor and big smile.

Although Alana has no memories of her father, she mourned his loss.

“It comes in waves and comes and goes,” Alana, now 18, said this week.

Celio Penamante was born in Hawaii and raised in Federal Way. He and McKernan made their home at University Place.

Penamante’s death left McKernan a single mother. It was a life she had already lived. She had raised Alana’s older sister, Kaitlynn, alone before she met Penamante.

“So being a single mom was something I had endured before,” she said. “I was already a pretty strong and independent woman. But the loss of my children was only the devastating part for me.

Alana Penamante, left, with her mother Karla McKernan in California on Aug. 15, 2022. The couple are attending the University of Arizona in Tucson. Karla McKernan

Eventually, she later married Daniel McKernan. He brought a son to the relationship, and the couple later had twins.

“Having my stepdad there was really nice growing up, just having a father figure,” Alana said.

Alana also inherited her father’s love for football. She played for four years at Curtis High School.

Keeping watch

Although McKernan was vaguely aware of Kombol, 69, and Beck, 66, she had no idea of ​​their 15-year plan to help Alana. Not even Celio’s parents, who Beck checked in with every few years, knew the men were saving money for her.

The couple kept their distance from Alana, preferring to follow her through her grandparents.

“Once in a while they would encourage us, ‘Hey, would you like to meet her?’ We’d say, “No, keep us posted on how she’s doing,” Beck said.

As graduation approached, Beck visited Alana’s family more often, even watching her play football for a few minutes one day – the first time he had seen her.

They learned that she had been accepted at the University of Arizona in Tucson where she plans to pursue studies in sports medicine.

“To see that this young girl, thanks to the advice of her mother and especially her grandparents, ends up being as good a girl as she is and going to university … it was even more encouraging to make sure that we were contributing funds,” Beck said.

Shortly before the annual Curtis Scholarships on May 23, Alana received an email from one of her principals informing her that she had won a scholarship and that she had to attend. the awards night.

“I was never told what it was or why I got it,” Alana said.

When Kombol and Beck took the stage that night, Kombol read a short speech.

“Tonight we’re presenting a scholarship to a girl we’ve never met because of an accident she can’t remember,” Kombol began. “On a freezing morning 16 years ago, my business partner and I drove down the Green River Gorge Road to inspect a property east of Black Diamond…”

It had been a long night and Alana was only partially listening.

“And, then I hear the story being told and ‘Black Diamond’ just clicks in my head. And I’m like, whoa, wait, this is my story here. And I hear everyone shut up” , said Alana.

When Kombol finished, he asked her to come forward and accept a $10,000 scholarship.

“There are people crying and … I feel like all eyes were on me at that moment,” she said. Shock is the word she uses to describe the moment.

“I’m still in shock,” Alana said three months later. She is still processing the emotions and commitment that Kombol and Beck unknowingly made to her all those years ago. “I still don’t…I don’t really know how to put it into words.”

Alana Penamante, Bill, Steve Beck, 5-23-22.jpg
Bill Kombol, left, and Steve Beck, right, presented Curtis Senior graduate Alana Penamante with a $10,000 scholarship on May 23, 2022. Bill Kombol

For McKernan, the vow the men made and their follow-up is something one only reads.

“It’s just not something you think is going to happen to you or your kids,” she said. “Obviously these men are very special.”

McKernan is not a religious person, she says, but she feels Celio was involved in some way.

“I always felt like Celio was always with us in some way,” she said. “And, you know, he’s been with them too.”

bound for Arizona

McKernan and Alana were on a mother-daughter trip to Tucson this week with a few days stopover in Southern California to visit Universal Studios and other sights.

The journey is bittersweet for the couple. Harder times are ahead for the family. Daniel was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis this year. Progressive neurodegenerative disease is incurable.

Kombol and Beck are unsure how they will be involved in Alana’s life, if at all, in the future. For now, they are content to close this chapter.

“It was delivering on a promise we made 15 years ago,” Kombol said.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune since 1998 as a writer, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and other Nevada and California newspapers. He graduated in journalism from San Jose State University.

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