Aid Pours In for Orphans After Crash

Times Staff Writer

Christmas was to have been a special holiday for Francisco and Yolanda Cruz. Yolanda's mother, Teresa C. Godoy, had finally obtained legal residency and just arrived from Guatemala.

But instead of joyfully planning her future, Godoy now is dealing with the aftermath of a head-on collision six days before Christmas in which her two daughters, Yolanda, 31, and Maria Hernandez, 33, and her son-in-law, Francisco Cruz, 42, were killed.

Also in the car were the two Cruz children, Byron, 12, and Brenda, 6. Brenda is now at home in a cast from her waist down, recovering from a broken pelvis and two broken legs.

Byron, who was treated for injuries to his spleen and a severely lacerated finger, has returned to his seventh-grade classes at Slauson Intermediate School in Azusa.

"For now, they are doing fine. I think we're going to make it," said Martha Cruz, the children's aunt, who speaks English and has had the primary responsibility of dealing with the police, hospital and funeral home. "But it is going to take time." Cruz and her husband, Carlos, plan to adopt the children.

"There are going to be many changes in this house," she said quietly.

Meanwhile, an outpouring of support, both financial and emotional, has come from friends, co-workers, neighbors, the firemen who rescued the children, and strangers who have learned of the family's plight.

Trust funds have been established for the children by neighbors; by the Glendale Fire Department, whose firefighters responded to the accident in that city; by Yolanda Cruz's employers at Integrated Financial in Encino, and by students and teachers at Henry Dalton Elementary School in Azusa, where Brenda is a first-grader.

"As soon as people heard that they were left orphans, I started getting so many phone calls," said Gloria Rubio, a friend of the family who established a trust fund at an American Savings & Loan branch in Azusa.

Martha Cruz said she and her family have been deeply touched by the help they have received.

"Please say thank you to everybody," she said. "It's very hard to say all the names."

Members of the Cruz family began immigrating to the United States from Guatemala about 15 years ago. Francisco and Yolanda Cruz became U. S. citizens in November, 1984. About four years ago, the couple, who wanted to become part of the American mainstream, decided to move from an apartment in downtown Los Angeles to a comfortable house in the foothills of Azusa.

To afford the move, Francisco and Yolanda Cruz and Carlos and Martha Cruz--sisters who had married brothers--bought the home together.

Martha Cruz stayed home and took care of the children, including her three daughters, Licbeth, 9, Martha, 6, and Joanna, 2, and the others held outside jobs.

Francisco Cruz was a supply technician at Arcadia Outpatient Surgery Center; his wife was a housekeeper for Integrated Financial. Carlos Cruz works as a die setter for Plastiglide Manufacturing Corp. in Hawthorne.

Once settled in Azusa, Yolanda and Francisco Cruz quickly became involved in the community and the education of their children. They had recently taken part in a campaign to raise money for school improvements and took time off from work to attend parent-teacher conferences, according to school officials.

The funds being raised in the community will help ease the burden of going from a three-income household to a single income, Martha Cruz said.

The Glendale Fire Department has raised $17,545 and has set up a trust fund at Glendale Federal Savings. The money will go for medical and rehabilitation costs for the children and for their education, fire officials said.

"It was probably one of the worst accidents we've been on," said Fire Capt. Gerry Miller. "A lot of the firemen have children, and it hit home with a lot of them."

The accident occurred at 8:25 p.m. on Dec. 19 on Los Feliz Road near Central Avenue in Glendale, while the family was returning home from a Christmas shopping trip.

Police said Aram Barsumyan, 30, of Los Angeles, was driving east on Los Feliz when his car hit a dip in the road, became airborne and crashed head-on into the Francisco Cruz's car.

Witnesses reportedly told investigators that Barsumyan's car had been weaving through traffic at high speeds before the collision. Police said his blood alcohol level was 0.19; California law presumes a motorist is intoxicated at 0.10.

Barsumyan, who was convicted in Los Angeles in 1982 of drunk driving, has been charged with three counts of murder and one count of vehicular manslaughter. His preliminary hearing is scheduled Feb. 19.

Another trust fund established by Integrated Financial, where Yolanda Cruz worked, has raised $9,700, and money is still coming in, said Susan Nissenbaum, vice president of the company, which also paid for the three funerals.

Earlier this month, students at Dalton Elementary School began a read-a-thon to help the family, seeking donations for every book they read. The school is also accepting direct donations.

The read-a-thon combines the school's effort to raise money for the Cruz family with a federally subsidized reading program called Reading Is Fundamental. At the end of the read-a-thon, which runs through January, each of the school's 350 students will get a free book.

"We're trying to get everybody we can, the whole community, behind the family," said Carolyn Wertz, the school's principal.

"We really wanted to do something upbeat that would be academically beneficial and something the kids could do," Wertz said.

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