Keith Cheung, 21, is the last Santa Barbara shooting rampage victim still recovering in a hospital and his family has high hopes that the college senior will be able to participate in his graduation on June 14.
Cheung was riding his bike home on May 23 after covering a shift for a coworker, lifeguarding at the University of California, Santa Barbara recreation center.
Cheung was about a block away from home when Elliot Rodger came speeding down the street in his black BMW, hitting Cheung from behind. Cheung flipped into the air and according to the ambulance crew, went through the windshield and when the car crashed, Cheung was ejected from the windshield and onto the ground.
“It was just an unfortunate incident all around,” older brother Kevin Cheung, 23, told ABC News. “He was just coming home from lifeguarding work and he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, he just got unlucky.”
“I was in shock. When I first heard it, I asked the nurse to repeat it one more time, I wasn’t sure if I heard her correctly,” Kevin recalled the moment he received that phone call. “My heart skipped a beat.”
Following hospital protocol, the nurse was unable to divulge specific details. Kevin was told his brother was involved in a vehicle collision and that he should search around Google and that he’d figure out what happened.
After searching around the Web, “I was able to link his injuries to the rampage,” Kevin said. But there were still questions about whether he was actually shot or hit by a car, and how long he was going to live.
Upon hearing the news, the Cheung family, along with one of Keith’s friends, drove down from San Francisco, getting to the hospital in Santa Barbara at 4 a.m. Saturday morning, Kevin said.
“I wasn’t able to find out all the information until I got to the hospital,” Kevin said. “After calling multiple times and not getting a clear answer, it made it sound like he might have passed away.”
“The drive down felt like there was a deadline coming up,” Kevin said. “My parents were definitely crying at the time. They might have thought he might be seriously injured.”
Keith’s liver was damaged and he sustained lacerations and abrasions all over his body, facial fractures, and skull fractures. Because of his head injuries, the family is most concerned about Keith’s memory. “We are concerned for his overall condition, but the most important is his brain and head injuries,” Kevin said.
The impact from Keith’s body was enough to break the window of Rodger’s car, and doctors told the family that there were even glass fragments in his head.
The recovery is ongoing and the family is staying by Keith’s side, awaiting updates from doctors and also for those short moments that Keith is awake and coherent enough to speak, his brother said.
“Throughout the times he has been awake, from those brief moments of time, he asked how much longer he as to live,” Kevin said. “Him seeing all the tubes hooked up to him and the monitors in the hospital made him feel like he had a finite time.”
When Keith asked if he was dying, “It made me very emotional,” Kevin said.
Kevin said he is looking forward to swimming with his brother again and seeing who can do the most flips on the diving board. “He’s never tried surfing out in Santa Barbara. I want to take him to do that,” Kevin said.
It’s been a stressful time for the Cheungs and they are doing the best they can to deal with what unfolded after the May 23 rampage, during which Rodger killed six and then himself.
“We shouldn’t take life for granted and life is precious,” Kevin said. “No one was expecting this to happen, especially for those who passed away. My thoughts and prayers go out to them.”
Keith worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the school’s recreation center. He is the coach and vice president of the school’s wrestling club. In addition to his athleticism, Keith majored in environmental studies and biology at UCSB and worked at a research lab on campus, his brother said.
Kevin said he and his parents hope Keith will be able to walk in UCSB’s graduation ceremony on June 14 alongside the rest of the class of 2014.