For Robin Unander, all great things have begun with Craigslist. Nine years ago, Unander, recently divorced and in her mid-thirties, posted to the classified ad website that she was looking for a guy. It worked out, and two years later, she found herself married and having a baby boy. When she returned to Craigslist to look for used baby items, she found a young single mom desperate for a crib, prompting her to launch a nonprofit, Mother’s Helpers, to provide baby goods for parents in need.
Through this nonprofit, Unander got to know Daniella Hearn, the 19-year-old who died on August 9 in a car crash on Cliff Drive. Hearn; her boyfriend, Ben Rubio, who was 28, and friend Angel Flores, 24, were pronounced dead at the scene; the front seat passenger, Michael Mendoza, 29, survived. Any day now, the police are expected to release their official findings.
Last week, Unander and her husband, Dan La Berge, became the permanent guardians of Hearn’s baby son, Lukas Hunt. Never really a kid person — “I probably would have been fine growing old having a footloose, fancy-free lifestyle,” she said — Unander now finds herself with two biological children, ages 7 and 4, and Lukas, just shy of 15 months.
An attorney employed part-time as a legal advisor through UCSB’s Associated Students, Unander first met Hearn and Lukas last Memorial Day weekend. She’d responded to Hearn’s distressed post at the Mother’s Helpers Facebook page, seeking someone to watch Lukas during her next-day shift at the 99 Cents store on State Street. Hearn dropped him off in the morning.
As she handed Unander a canvas bag of baby items, Hearn asked, “How much do you charge?” Unander replied, “Nothing.” It was Saturday; Unander was spending the day around the house with her kids, anyway, she told her. As Hearn walked away, she turned around to ask, “What was your name again?”
Hearn — whose funeral service was held Wednesday, which would have been her 20th birthday — had a rough childhood. Suffering from learning disabilities, she found herself hanging with the De la Guerra Plaza street crowd, using drugs and alcohol. She was living on the streets by age 15. A week after completing La Cuesta Continuation High School, she gave birth to Lukas. His father, Frank Hunt, was mainly out of the picture.
Early this summer, Hearn’s life grew difficult — kicked out of her house, she slipped back into drug use. “She was in such survival mode; she really couldn’t think beyond today,” Unander said. Unander started to watch Lukas regularly. When Hearn decided to start Casa Serena’s 90-day treatment plan, Unander said, she and La Berge agreed to take Lukas for three months. Unander filed for short-term guardianship.
The night of the accident, Hearn had dropped by to visit with Lukas. She looked good — lucid and clear, Unander said. But just over an hour later, Hearn was dead. The scene of the accident continues to be sprinkled with flowers and letters. Condolences line her Facebook page. Strangers who remember her while in line at the 99 Cents store left kind words on the GoFundMe.com page set up for her memorial service.
Her mother, Dianne Hearn, said many people are contacting her now. “Very few reached out when she was alive,” she said. “Robin was one of those who [did].” Of her daughter, Hearn said, “She had a good heart. If she couldn’t give you the shirt off her back, she’d find one to give you.” Saying they “really touched Dani,” she expressed gratitude Unander and La Berge can bring Lukas into their family. “They are a perfect family because they are not a perfect family,” she said. “They are normal.”
Lukas’s father could not be reached either by phone or social media for this story. According to Unander, he sent her a Facebook message last week, saying, “Thank you for caring for him while I get my stuff in order … Give him my love please.” Hunt could seek to terminate the guardianship through the court. He lives in Idaho and, according to Dianne Hearn, never paid child support.
As for Unander, whose parents were also 20 years old when she was born, she could not say for certain she would adopt Lukas one day. “We were dog people before we were kid people,” she said. “I equate it to the puppy who has found his pack. He is home. It is hard to imagine taking him away from that.”