For Gregg and Leslie Ciccone, the horrifying events of Dec. 19 are ever-so-slowly fading into memory.
The St. Petersburg couple had sold their boutique bakery, swah-rey, and were headed west across Interstate 10 towards California, where Leslie was to start a new job in San Diego.
At 2:45 a.m., an 18-wheel truck rammed the Ciccones’ 14-foot trailer, attached to the RV Gregg was driving. The force sheared the vehicles apart, and the RV flipped twice and landed, in pieces, on the side of the highway. The 18-wheeler – at least, that’s what they think it was – sped away.
Miraculously, the Ciccones and their two dogs, Lad and Rey, were unharmed.
“Every day gets a little bit better, because everything gets a little more distant,” Gregg Ciccone said. “Even when you’re having quiet, reflective moments you can’t help but think about how much this really is happenstance. I just reflect on wow, the world is such a random place.”
A GoFundMe campaign, launched in St. Pete, raised over $18,000 for the couple. “Leslie cries almost every night when we talk about all the people that have helped us. And how many anonymous people that donated. It’s just crazy.”
The donations are especially important because the insurance money, for the RV and the trailer, has yet to arrive; indeed, their claim is still being processed. “That just adds insult to the injury,” Ciccone said. “But at least we’re alive to do it. That’s what we keep telling ourselves.”
Time was a factor because Leslie, a veteran air traffic controller, was scheduled to start her job with the Federal Aviation Administration Jan. 3.
Gregg, Leslie and the dogs spent a total of five days in a Mississippi roadside motel. Although the trailer was crushed, they were able to salvage some belongings, which a friend of a friend, who happened to live in Biloxi, agreed to store for them until shipment to San Diego could be arranged.
“Most clothing was good, because it didn’t seem like any weather got inside,” Gregg Ciccone explained.
Not so fortunate were pieces of art and other possessions. “Things that weren’t super-valuable, but were such a part of our lives. They meant so much to us, they had so many memories attached to them. They were just broken slash shattered slash folded in half, that kind of stuff.”
In a rented minivan, they left Mississippi Dec. 23, and spent Christmas in yet another hotel. The journey took four days.
Today, they’re ensconced in their San Diego apartment; Leslie goes to work every day in another rented car.
Their own car is still in Tampa, awaiting shipment west.
“You don’t realize until you lose every fork and pot and pan and hanger and everything, how much stuff literally costs you to replace,” Ciccone said. “One MacBook, which Leslie lost in the accident, is $2,400. Just one. Phones, 800 bucks. A TV. Just stuff. And it all just adds up.”
Although her pre-existing back trouble was exacerbated by the accident, Leslie Ciccone is, according to her husband, “a strong human being. She’s good at what she does, and she has a really good attitude about life. She says that all of us have setbacks, you just have to move forward.
“Still, you have a different perspective after you roll over two times in a vehicle. Anyone would.”
The plan is to stay in San Diego for a year or two, however long it takes for Leslie to qualify for retirement benefits from the FAA. At that point, the Ciccones will return to St. Petersburg.
Gregg will be back here in a few weeks. In addition to his lengthy resume as a restauranteur and entrepreneur, he is a licensed general contractor, and intends to finish renovation work on his mother-in-law’s home in Old Southeast.
“That’s my personal joy, using my hands and building things,” he said. “And solving problems that way. But what paid me a lot of money was doing the other stuff.”
Once he’s back in San Diego – what Leslie calls the couple’s “home away from home” – he plans to find a new project to tackle.
“I really honestly don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m going to just find something that really pleases me, and I’m going to go from there. We’re fortunate because of Leslie’s job, how long she’s been in the FAA and the level that she’s at, that I can afford to be a little picky with what I want to do.
“I told Leslie, you just focus on your job, and let me kind of start with the lower base of the building blocks and let’s build our life back together after this.”