SURREY — Members of local rock band Tommy Alto continue to recover from a violent van crash that happened a month ago – and they promise to play music together again one day, even if it takes many months for them all to heal well enough.
The early-morning accident near Hope on Aug. 26 came at the end of a summer tour for the band, which had performed in Coleman, Alta., the evening before. Their vehicle went off the road and crashed into a boulder during their all-night drive.
Bassist Paul Engels, a recent high school grad and the band member most seriously injured in the crash, remains in hospital with head trauma and other injuries.
His progress is documented daily in a "Praying for Paul Engels" Facebook page, which is followed by more than 1,800 people.
"Our son is communicating with a couple of hand signals now (thumbs up & OK)," Paul's dad, John, posted on the page late Tuesday, Sept. 24. "He signaled for me to turn up the music tonight. Yesterday, he chose his music over me playing guitar. I guess I better practice more," he wrote, adding a "smiley face" to the post.
Last Sunday, Paul's sister Sarah posted that her brother's health continues to improve.
"He experiences brief periods of awareness where he is more engaged with what's happening around him," Sarah wrote. "He responds to vocal commands and external stimulus. He's not able to articulate himself, but was able to give the nurse a muffled 'I'm cold' last night. He wrapped his arms around both mom and I today, and reaches to hold a hand."
Reached by phone Wednesday, bandleader Tom Vander Kam said he and the others are very optimistic about Engels' recovery.
"If he's come this far in only a month, there's lots of hope," Vander Kam said. "He attempts to vocalize stuff but can't yet, but he's getting there. We know he's in there, he's just trapped in his body."
The band's drummer, Chartwell Kerr, was also seriously injured in the crash, and is now recovering at home.
"He's still in pretty rough shape," Vander Kam said. "He won't walk or drum again for maybe six to eight months, but he's definitely staying optimistic about everything, very positive."
Vander Kam is also on the mend from injuries to his abdomen and hip areas, along with a deep gash to his shin.
Last Saturday at Surrey's Youth Fest, Vander Kam performed live for the first time since the crash, and will again this coming Saturday (Sept. 28) during the Rock the Town Festival in White Rock.
"I'm slowly easing back into playing live again, and (Youth Fest) was something to let everyone know that we're not dead," he said. "We're still here and will continue to make music.… Right now, all I can do are acoustic gigs where I don't move around too much (on stage), because of the pain."
As for the future of Tommy Alto, Vander Kam said he and the other band members have plans to release an EP of new music next spring and then tour again.
"We want to do an all-ages reunion show next May or June, just to celebrate our good health and also make it a tour kickoff," Vander Kam said.
"We're not going to let this (accident) stop us. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger at this point."
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