Burn survivor returns home to hero's welcome - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Burn survivor returns home to hero's welcome

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ENCINITAS (CNS) - A young man who survived a fiery car accident that claimed four lives last year returned to San Diego County Tuesday to a raucous welcome from hundreds of former classmates.

Derek Thomas, 19, was transferred to Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas from the Grossman Burn Center in the San Fernando Valley, where he spent nearly a year following the Aug. 9, 2010, collision near Bishop.

Thomas, who does not remember details of the crash, spent four months in a medically induced coma. He survived despite being burned over 85 percent of his body.

Before leaving the burn center, he thanked the doctors and nurses who treated him.

"During times I've been down, the staff has really picked me up," Thomas said.

His welcome home included cheerleaders and former classmates from Cathedral Catholic High School and the parents of his late girlfriend, Amanda Post, an Olivenhein resident who was killed in the crash.

Post's parents were on hand Tuesday to welcome Derek back to San Diego.

"It's incredible, because we love Derek so much and Amanda loved him so much and she was with him all the time," Greg Post said.

"He's an unbelievable young man and he will continue with his fight," Missy Post said.

Natalie Nield, 17, of Carlsbad, also died, and another occupant of their SUV, Nathan Adams, 39, of Cardiff by the Sea, succumbed two months later.

Drew Delis, of Encinitas, was also burned in the crash.

All were athletes returning from Mammoth, where they were conducting high-altitude physical training overseen by Adams.

The driver of the other vehicle, Wendy Rice of Corona, also was killed. She was a cheerleading coach driving a van that carried cross-country runners from California Baptist University in Riverside.

Thomas said he owes his strength to family members.

"I just love them more than anything. They have given me everything that I have and I wouldn't be this person today if they weren't there for me," he said.

Thomas smiled broadly and waved a fist at the gathering as he got out of an ambulance. He previously said he was looking forward to returning home and enjoying Mexican food.

Thomas will need to return to the burn center for more operations designed to improve his range of motion.

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