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San Jose fire captain loses three children and ex-wife in Hollister crash

HOLLISTER, Calif. (KION-TV) UPDATE August 18, 2022, at 2:30 p.m.-  A San Jose fire captain suffered an unthinkable tragedy after all three of his children were killed in a car crash Sunday evening, along with his ex-wife.

Captain Steve Biakanja of San Jose Fire Station 16 lost his 14-year-old twin daughters Leigh and Lucy, and 12-year-old son Ben, in a crash on Highway 156 in Hollister on Sunday.

The children's mother Lisa Biakanja, also died in the crash. She was the fire captain's ex-wife.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the four were traveling in a 2014 Tesla on eastbound Highway 156 when, for unknown reasons, their vehicle veered into oncoming traffic and hit a tractor-trailer.

Investigators have yet to determine why the Tesla crashed.

Biakanja's current wife, Thaun, told KTVU that Tesla was not equipped with the autopilot feature.

Captain Steve Biakanja pictured alongside his children Leigh and Lucy

The Carmel Unified School District said that Leigh, Lucy, and Ben were all enrolled at Carmel Middle School and attended Tularcitos Elementary School before that.

Superintendent Ted Knight said "Coming back, the second week of school to this news this morning was certainly very tragic and was hard for a lot of staff and students to hear."

Knight said the deaths of Leigh, Lucy, and Ben have taken a toll on some of their classmates.

"Some students did need to go home. Some students are in our wellness center talking to mental health professionals. Others might have just needed a little quiet time," Knight said.

But the one who suffered the biggest loss is Captain Biakanja.

Station 16 set up a GoFundMe to help lessen the financial burden for Biakanja. The fire station said the funds will cover the children's funeral costs, as well as counseling, meals, and other forms of support for Biakanja and his wife Thaun.

Captain Steve Biakanja is pictured alongside his child Ben. 

"At San Jose Fire, each member of the team is considered family, and in times of need, a family must stand together. Captain Biakanja has stood guard for his community for years, living out the department’s creed of "For the Kids," in service to his people. In his time of need, we ask for your assistance for his kids. your help, we can do our best to ease the burden of this tragedy and to honor the memory of his beloved children," the department wrote.

CHP: Twins and brother from Carmel Valley die with mother after Tesla crash in Hollister

CHP said a crash on Sunday night left four people dead after a Tesla crashed into a tractor-trailer.

The driver of the Tesla was going eastbound on Highway 156 near Fairview Road. CHP said around 8:05 p.m., the Tesla went into oncoming traffic for an unknown reason and hit a tractor-trailer.

All four occupants died in the crash. A female driver, age 55, and two female and one male passenger were also killed in the crash. All occupants were from Carmel Valley, according to CHP.

The Carmel Unified School District sent out the following letter to students:

Dear Carmel Middle School Staff and Families,

It is with deep sadness that we inform you about a recent loss to our school community. Last night, August 14, 2022, Lucy, Leigh and Ben Biakanja, along with their mother, passed away in a car accident. They were all enrolled in Carmel Middle School and attended Tularcitos before joining CMS. We do not have any additional information about the accident at this time.

Carmel Unified School District

Twin sisters Lucy and Leigh were in 8th grade, and Ben was a 6th grader and all of them attended Carmel Middle School.

CHP said they are looking to see if the Tesla was being self-driven.

The school want to remind students of the following resources for students:

Our school has a Grief Response Team made up of professionals trained to help with the needs of students, families, and school personnel at difficult times such as this. At our school, we have mental health professionals available in the Wellness Center for any student who may need or want help or any type of assistance surrounding this loss. We encourage you, as families, to also feel free to use the resources below.

We wanted all families to be aware of the situation so that you can discuss this with your child. There is no way to predict how this tragedy might affect your child, but changes in behavior might be a signal that your child may need assistance with dealing with this type of tragedy.
Mental health professionals recommend:

Talk with your child about their feelings about the tragedy; share your feelings too

Talk about what happened; give your child information they can understand

Reassure your child that they are safe; you may need to repeat this reassurance often

Listen and comfort your child often

Additional resources can be found here:

  • The CMS Wellness Center: Call (831) 624-2785 x2633
  • Kinship Center: Call (831) 687-4379 for immediate assistance. A team of professionals will assist you over the phone and in person right away. Anyone in Monterey County between the ages of 0-21 can use this service.
  • Ohana: Call (831) 642-6201 to reach a team of professionals who specialize in caring for patients from early childhood to young adulthood.

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