Residents of tiny Riverdale, Calif., struggled with grief Monday over the deaths of a woman and four children in a fiery car accident that authorities said was caused by another motorist running a stop sign.
The Fresno County coroner Monday identified the victims as Esmeralda Saucedo, 29; Isaac Saucedo, 1; Nikko Saucedo, 3; Jada Saucedo, 6; and Breanna Reyes-Saucedo, 11.
"It's just a tragedy that can't be described," said Kathryn Ervin, 60, said of Saturday evening's crash. The family's car had come to rest against Ervin's home.
Saucedo's Ford SUV burst into flames almost immediately after impact — flames that her husband witnessed from his car.
"It was an explosion," said Lori Pierce, who lives at the intersection where the crash occurred and was inside her mobile home at the time. "It shook our trailer. I've never heard anything like it."
Pierce and her husband, Robert, raced outside as Saucedo's husband, who has not been identified by authorities, ran for the flaming wreckage of his wife's car.
At first Robert Pierce tried to help the man get to the people who were trapped inside, but the flames were too intense, Lori Pierce said. The man repeatedly tried to fight through the flames, but it was clearly too late, she said, and Robert Pierce had to pull him away from the wreckage.
"There was nothing that could be done," Ervin said in a telephone interview. "The man would have been killed himself."
The driver of the vehicle that crashed into Saucedo's was identified by the California Highway Patrol as Juana Martinez Bejarano, 41. She was traveling at an estimated 60 mph, authorities said — not much above the legal limit of 55. Bejarano appears to have missed the stop sign, officials said, and the cars collided.
Bejarano was injured and listed in fair condition at a local hospital Monday. The CHP has said her speed was not a factor in the crash, nor were drugs or alcohol, but they are looking into her possible use of medications.
Residents of the tight-knit, rural town of 2,400, about 25 miles south of Fresno, have visited the crash site by the dozen to pay their respects. At the local hardware store, they are circulating a petition to improve safety at the intersection where the crash occurred. Plans have been hatched to build a permanent memorial to the victims.
"The whole community is broken," Ervin said. "I figure — what can I do? So I cry. I do. I cry."
A fundraiser for the family was scheduled Monday night at the local volunteer fire department. Two online fundraising sites have also been established to help the family cover funeral expenses.
In addition, Ervin and others have launched a petition drive to persuade local transportation officials to make the intersection safer with warning bumps and lights. And an effort is underway to erect a permanent plaque at the intersection to honor those who were killed.
"People love each other here, and the sadness is just overwhelming," Ervin said. "One life is precious. This was five precious lives, taken in one fell swoop."