SALT LAKE CITY — The mother of a 16-year-old girl who was killed in a crash in Big Cottonwood Canyon last month has also died, Salt Lake police confirmed Wednesday.
Brandilee Kussee Chacon, 44, died Tuesday night, police said — exactly one month after the death of her daughter, Sierra Rosalina Chacon. She is remembered by family members as a devoted mother who loved children and books.
Sierra was killed and Kussee Chacon was critically injured in the early morning hours of Aug. 17 when a car slammed into a truck parked in the canyon. The mother and daughter were asleep inside the vehicle. They were having a campout to celebrate Sierra’s 16th birthday, according to Kussee Chacon’s sister, Brianne Christianson.
“They had a calendar at their house and they were crossing off the days until they were able to go,” Christianson said. “It was something they were really looking forward to.”
The four men in the car had all been drinking prior to getting in the vehicle, police said, but one of the men told police he didn’t think the driver was “that drunk,” according to a search warrant affidavit.
No arrests had been made as of Wednesday, as investigators were still waiting on forensics and the toxicology report to confirm who was driving the car, police said.
Mother and daughter were sleeping that night in the covered bed of a Ford F-250 in a designated parking area off the side of Big Cottonwood Road, near the Butler Fork Trailhead in the area of 9300 East. They’d parked there after they couldn’t find a camping spot, according to Christianson.
“My sister, when she promised something to her kids, she tried to do everything she could to not disappoint them,” Christianson said. “So even when they couldn’t find a camping spot, my sister didn’t want to let her little girl down.”
Just before 3 a.m., a Chevrolet Malibu driving down the canyon “failed to negotiate the curve, left the roadway, went partially through a culvert, and went airborne,” according to the warrant. The Malibu landed on the cargo truck bed area of the truck, the warrant said, causing the truck to rotate and the Malibu to “vault into a tree on the hillside.”
Sierra was pronounced dead at the scene, and her mother was taken to the hospital in critical condition.
In the month since that night, a shock trauma team had been working with Kussee Chacon, according to her mother, CarolAnn Gudjenova.
“Her injuries were so severe that they told us from the outset that she had a pretty bad chance to recover,” Gudjenova said. But “we kept praying,” she added. “I think half of Utah has been praying for her.”
In her last few days, Gudjenova said, Kussee Chacon’s “body just gave out,” and her organs began to fail. She died early Tuesday night.
“Nothing can prepare (you), especially when I waited for six years to have her in the first place and nearly lost her during the childbirth,” Gudjenova said. “Now to lose her when she’s only 44 has devastated me.
“I don’t think I have processed all this yet, even though I’ve had a month to know that it’s probably going to happen,” she continued. “I’ve had that glimmer of hope that she would recover, because she has a little 7-year-old boy who now doesn’t have a mother or a sister.”
After losing her sister and niece, Christianson is urging others to “never take the little things for granted.”
“Never go to bed angry, and don’t hold resentments,” Christianson said. “Because you never know when that last conversation is going to be.”