With arms clasped tightly across her body and bending forward, Vai Vaokakala recalled Tuesday the nightmare that resulted in her boyfriend dying along a stretch of freeway in Compton.
He was struck by a pickup truck and killed while trying to summon help after they were forced to disrobe and then robbed.
Vaokakala, 21, of Norwalk and her boyfriend, Francisco Barragan, 28, of Huntington Park, were held up about 10 p.m. Monday on an isolated stretch of Atlantic Avenue near the Long Beach Freeway overpass, she said.
Barragan had pulled over to check his car after it started to vibrate, she said. A gunman approached on the driver's side, robbed them and took Barragan's car keys, she said.
As she and Barragan began walking north on Atlantic, a car approached, she said. The gunman, seeing the oncoming vehicle, ordered them to return and hide in the bushes along the freeway's embankment, she said.
"He didn't want anybody to see what he was doing," she said. "He told both of us to take off our clothes. He later pulled me to the ground by my hair."
At that point, Barragan struggled with the man over the gun, she said. The weapon then discharged, frightening away the assailant, she said. Barragan ran up the embankment to the southbound freeway lanes shouting for help, she said.
Compton police said a bullet struck Barragan in the left calf, but Vaokakala said Tuesday she was unaware that he had been shot. She said he didn't cry out in pain or indicate in any other way that he had been wounded.
Vaokakala said she quickly put on her slacks, grabbed Barragan's pants and shirt and followed him up the embankment. He put on his pants, and she put on his shirt, she said.
"He wanted to cross the freeway," she said. "We both ran to the middle and jumped the little railing. Traffic was not that heavy."
They then crossed the northbound lanes and safely reached the opposite shoulder, where Barragan tried to flag down a passing pickup truck, she said.
"He was yelling, 'Help, help, help,' " she said. "The driver must have been nervous. The truck went right over him."
Although he conceded that the young woman may be correct, Compton Police Sgt. William Wallace said investigators at the scene reported that the pickup truck swerved to avoid Vaokakala and hit Barragan as they crossed the northbound lanes.
After the truck hit Barragan, Vaokakala said, she held him in her arms and "he was so cold."
Barragan later died at Charter Suburban Hospital in Paramount.
Vaokakala described the gunman as in his mid-20s with short hair and a dark complexion. She said he was about 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. Wallace asked that anyone with information about the robbery call Compton police at 213-605-5600.
Vaokakala and her family immigrated to this country 10 years ago from the Pacific island kingdom of Tonga. Barragan had immigrated from Mexico. They met while working at Goodwill Industries in Long Beach.
"He was always telling me he wanted to take me to Mexico to meet his parents," she said. "We were talking about getting engaged.
"What is sad about all of this is we didn't have anything for him to take--probably $20."
Vaokakala said she and Barragan always talked about going to Las Vegas. And last Friday, she celebrated her 21st birthday, which means she could legally go into the casinos.
"We were planning to go there over the holidays," she said, fighting back tears. "I guess no more."