Father made 'every effort' to save family from burning SUV, CHP says

The father who witnessed his wife and four children die in a fiery SUV crash Saturday near Fresno made "every effort" to save his family, even as the wife tried to get out, a California Highway Patrol officer said.

The 29-year-old mother, who was not immediately identified, was driving south about 7 p.m. in a 2003 Ford Expedition in the community of Riverdale, south of Fresno. In the SUV were her four children -- 1- and 3-year-old boys and 6- and 11-year-old girls -- when a Nissan apparently ran a stop sign at about 60 mph, causing the collision, authorities said.

"The vehicle burst into flames somehow, which is kind of unique, but the parties were unable to get out of the vehicle," CHP Capt. Dave Paris told ABC30-TV. "It appears the driver tried to get out but didn't make it."

The father, traveling behind the family in a separate car, witnessed the crash. He suffered burns when he broke out windows of the SUV in an attempt to free his family.

"The father relayed that he watched them and all of a sudden he saw this flash and he got into the intersection and the car was already on fire," Paris told the news station, adding that he made "every effort he could to get his kids and family out."

Witnesses described how they had to pull the husband away from the burning wreckage as he tried to rescue his family.

"My husband ran out, he saw a car engulfed in flames and a man running around the car wanting to get his family out," Lori Pierce told the Fresno Bee. "He was in such shock we just had to pull him away."

The family was reportedly returning from a family birthday party.

The driver of the Nissan, identified by the CHP as Juana Martinez Bejarano, 41, was injured in the crash and taken to Community Regional Medical Center, officials said. An investigation into the crash remained ongoing Monday.


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