Crash During Fireworks Show Kills Mother, Injures Seven
Rick PattersonJuly 05, 2010 9:11 PM
A Newhall mother was killed and her son critically injured as they watched a fireworks show when two cars crashed on Valencia Boulevard, sending one careening into a crowd of spectators, sheriff’s officials confirmed Monday.
The crash occurred about 9:40 p.m. Sunday, just before the fireworks show at Westfield Valencia Town Center reached its grand finale.
A white Infiniti traveling eastbound on Valencia allegedly ran a red light and collided with a westbound Dodge Durango making a left turn at Mall Entrance, which is in front of Islands Restaurant, said sheriff’s Sgt. Darren Harris.
The crash spun the Infiniti into a crowd of people sitting on the south curb of Valencia Boulevard, Harris and witnesses said.
Killed was Matilde Garnica Juarez, 43, of Newhall. She was declared dead at the scene.
Her 13-year-old son was airlifted to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and reported in critical condition.
A family member said the boy was moved to UCLA Medical Center for surgery Monday. One report indicated he had head injuries.
A second injured son, age 12, was treated and released at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. Sheriff’s and Fire department reports indicated as many as seven people in the crowd were injured.
Among them was a 4-year-old girl, an apparent relative or friend of the Garnica Juarez family, who suffered a critical head injury, Harris confirmed Monday.
An off-duty sheriff’s deputy held the girl’s head until she could be transported to a hospital, Harris said. She, too, was taken to UCLA Medical Center, but her condition was unknown Monday.
Neither the 22-year-old driver of the Infiniti nor the 19-year-old driver of the Durango was seriously injured, Harris said.
Tests indicated neither was drunk; tests for other types of drugs were pending.
Neither driver was arrested, but the investigation is continuing, Harris said.
Initial reports that a Sheriff’s Department patrol car was involved in the crash proved to be incorrect.
Family and neighbors cried and consoled each other at the Garnica Juarez home in a Newhall mobile home park on Monday afternoon.
Garnica Juarez’s sister said through a translator that the family didn’t want to talk to the media, except to say the 13-year-old boy was facing surgery, his father by his side.
While she was talking, a neighbor gave her a plate of homemade sandwiches and pan dulce — Mexican sweet bread. The two hugged, began to cry and then walked inside the home.
Dozens rush to help
Witness accounts were numerous as thousands had crowded in and around the mall Sunday night to see the fireworks show.
Brad and Lea Lanfranco, of Valencia, were across the shopping center driveway from the traffic light pole where the Garnica Juarez family had settled to watch the show.
The collision with the Dodge SUV sent the Infiniti airborne for about 10 feet before it hit the traffic signal upright, said Brad Lanfranco.
“The lady was sitting by the base of the pole,” he said. “So when the car hit the pole, it slid down on top of her.”
Robert Turnbull was standing about 20 feet away from the crash with his girlfriend.
The collision with the SUV launched, and spun, the white Infiniti about 50 feet toward the curb, he said.
“It knocked the hell out of that car,” Turnbull said Monday morning. He and his girlfriend had revisited the scene of the collision to lay flowers at the location.
“It was loud. It sounded like a mini explosion,” he said. “Being so close, it was freaky.”
When the Infiniti collided with the traffic signal pole, it pinned Garnica Juarez and her son beneath it. Turnbull said it was instantly clear the woman did not survive.
“You could tell she wasn’t here by how hard she got hit,” Turnbull said. “She got hit hard. She didn’t move at all.”
The sidewalk around the crash was crowded with hundreds of people watching the fireworks show, Turnbull said.
Dozens of people rushed to move the car off the woman and her son. Garnica Juarez’s son was struggling to breathe when the car was lifted off him, Turnbull said.
Marine Lance Cpl. Gilbert Delgado, 23, said he was sitting about 15 feet away from Matilde Garnica Juarez, After the crash, he saw a 4-year-old girl covered in blood.
“My Marine instincts kicked in when I saw that little girl crying,” Delgado said, adding that he picked her up because people were running everywhere and he was afraid she would be trampled.
“She was bleeding all over me. I had to throw away my (clothes); there was so much blood.”
“It was horrible,” Delgado said. “This is not supposed to be happening in the world’s safest city.”
Saugus resident Kari Hewitt was sitting with her family about 35 feet from the crash. She could still hear the sound of the collision echoing in her head Monday morning, she said.
“The second we heard the crunch, my heart sank,” Hewitt said. “I can’t even begin to tell you what the crunch was like.”
She recalled seeing dozens of people rush to pull the vehicle off Garnica Juarez. She says she sees the events replay in her mind in slow motion.
The 37 year-old mother was frustrated; the city should have shut down Valencia Boulevard to motorists, she said.
“I think the city owed it to us to keep everybody safe,” she said. “I can’t imagine why there was no traffic control.”
Gail Ortiz, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita, said the city offered condolences to the victims’ families but had no comment on the issue of fireworks show safety.
“Our hearts and our prayers go out to those family members,” she said Monday. “It’s a tragedy on such a joyful day.”
She said the city does not comment on pending investigations.
“Let the investigators do their jobs,” she said.
Nightmares plague witnesses
Before the fireworks began, Hewitt said, her husband wanted to move the family to a spot in front of Islands restaurant.
Hewitt said she argued with her husband to stay back from the road because Valencia Boulevard was not closed to traffic.
She feared for her four daughters’ safety, she said.
The family stayed on the grass to the east of the restaurant.
“There was just too much traffic over there,” Hewitt said Monday. “When fireworks are exploding in the sky, how do you not get distracted?”
The mother of six said her 14-year-old daughter had nightmares Sunday night, reliving the traumatic event. Neither she nor the Lanfrancos got much sleep.
“Such a happy occasion quickly became a nightmare,” Lea Lanfranco said.
Delgado, who helped the little girl the night of the crash, said he’ll never forget her. He returned to the crash site Monday afternoon to lay flowers at the traffic pole where Matilde Garnica Juarez was killed.
By 5 p.m., flowers, candles, cards and stuffed animals adorned the location. But underneath were two streams of dried blood that ran over the sidewalk from the crash site.
“The Fourth of July is about remembering the troops and the people fighting overseas,” Delgado said. “But this is the Fourth of July I’ll always have in my head. Who can forget that girl? There’s nothing in this world that can make me forget what I saw.”
Delgado said he and his wife woke up from a nightmare at 3 a.m. Monday and talked about how close they had come to death — had the traffic signal pole not stopped the white Infiniti, he and several other spectators might also have been killed.
Above the flowers and stuffed animals, cards were taped to the pole.
“Nothing in this world will ever make what happened right,” one card read. “To all the victims and their families may you someday find peace.”