Refugees nearly killed in crash just after immigration

Emanuel and David Kitulo
Emanuel and David Kitulo. (May 15, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Five months after they immigrated from a Tanzanian refugee camp to the United States, two Grand Rapids men had to fight for their lives in a different way.

Emanuel and David Kitulo, 22 and 18 years old respectively, were seriously injured in an April crash in Illinois. A friend of theirs who was driving died at the scene. The Kitulos’ sister was also hurt.

Emanuel and David Kitulo
The scene of a crash on I-280 in Illinois that injured Emanuel and David Kitulo. (April 22, 2017)

The Kitulo brothers both suffered traumatic brain injuries and their survival was uncertain. They ultimately ended up at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids to complete their recovery.

“These two men are having about the best outcome that I could imagine,” Dr. Daniel Fechtner from Mary Free Bed told 24 Hour News 8. “Their recovery is faster than most people. They’re already doing better than a lot of patients who’ve had similar or even milder injuries.”

The Kitulo brothers had been helping to support their family by working at an area turkey processing company. Still recovering from their injuries, they haven’t been able to return to work.

The brothers speak Swahili and little English but they spoke with 24 Hour News 8 with the help of an interpreter.

“If this accident hadn’t happened, I could be working now,” David Kitulo told 24 Hour News 8. “It’s a plan of God. Maybe something is ahead for me… I think there is a good plan for me.”

Neither of the men remembered the crash.

The brothers say their family is in need of financial help. The family has been working with Samaritas, a local organization that helps refugees settle in America. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help raise funds.

The softspoken brothers said their biggest struggle has been emotional. They lost a longtime friend in the crash.

Despite the ordeal, they remain hopeful about the futures in America. They have a deep appreciation for something many Americans take for granted.

Asked to describe his favorite thing about coming to the United States, Emanuel Kitulo answered in Swahili with a single word.

“Freedom,” he said.



GoFundMe for Kitulo family