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Mexico Crash Shatters Paramount Family : Accident: Parents, youngest son and a friend are killed as van flips after drifting off the roadway. Three other sons and a daughter survive.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jose Guerrero earned modest wages as a self-employed auto mechanic. He lived with his wife and five children in a one-bedroom home with a converted garage in Paramount. But always, it seemed, he was there to help when his extended family went to him for advice.

“Jose was very happy, very sharing,” said his sister, Natalia Juarez, of Lynwood. “He was like a father to the rest of us. He was the one we always went to for advice, for funds. Now, it is up to us, with much pain, to help his children.”

Guerrero, 40, and his wife, Elvira, 35, were killed on Tuesday in an automobile accident in Mexico that also claimed the life of their youngest son, Jesus, 2. Also killed was a friend, Guadalupe Delgado, who fell asleep at the wheel before the van ran off the road 12 miles north of the city of Guaymas, Sonora, Mexican police said.

Orphaned and injured in the accident were the Guerrero’s other four children, who still have not been told of their parents’ deaths, Juarez said.

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Isabel, 17, a Paramount High School senior who planned to start college in Los Angeles next fall, was in critical condition at a Guaymas hospital. Her three teen-age brothers--Eduardo, 17, Raul, 14, and Jose Jr., 13--were in good condition with less serious injuries. Liandro Pantoja, Jose Guerrero’s uncle, was also injured.

News of the accident hit relatives hard in Los Angeles County, home of six of Jose Guerrero’s seven brothers and sisters. Guerrero was taking his family back to Michoacan to visit his remaining sister. Afterward, he planned to bring his aging mother to Los Angeles to live.

Juarez said she and other relatives are struggling to raise more than $10,000 to cover immediate funeral costs and hospital bills. She said she has raised about $1,200 from many family members, but that medical costs for Isabel in particular are rising.

Martin Torres, press attache for the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, said Mexican officials had intervened to allow the three sons to return home without paying the bills.

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The Guerrero family had begun immigrating to Southern California from the small town of Santa Ana Amacatlan, Michoacan, in the mid-1970s, relatives said.

For years Jose Guerrero’s wife, Elvira, worked in a meat-packing plant to supplement her husband’s income. About two years ago, she became a Mary Kay Cosmetics consultant and talked often of earning enough credits under a company incentive formula to win a pink Cadillac, said Juarez, her sister-in-law.

“I’m not sure why she was so determined to have that car,” said Juarez. “She lived in such a little house--one bedroom and a garage for five children. She wasn’t ambitious, but maybe she thought the car would shine in front of that house.”

Later, said Juarez, Elvira Guerrero would laugh at her goal. Family, she said, always came first.

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Painfully, the family is sorting through the job of shipping the bodies to Michoacan for burial and planning a future for the remaining Guerrero children. “We will be responsible for them until we see what happens with Isabel because she is the eldest,” Juarez said.

In a telephone interview from a Guaymas hospital Friday, 14-year-old son Raul, a student at Paramount High School, said he tried to prevent the accident. It occurred on a stretch of modern four-lane highway in the state of Sonora that is the site of frequent crashes because people tend to speed, Mexican police said.

But this accident, said Raul, was not caused by speeding.

“Everybody in the car was asleep because we had been driving all night,” said Raul. “I was sitting in the front seat and looked over and saw that (Delgado) was falling asleep. I screamed at him, ‘Wake up!’ I tried to grab the steering wheel, but it was too late. He woke up astonished, and hit the accelerator.”

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When the car swerved off the road, flipping over in the process, his parents and youngest brother, none of whom were wearing seat belts, were thrown out of the car.

Another relative said the three brothers, with various broken bones, were gathering around their sister’s hospital bed this week in tears after her screams of pain prompted the doctors to medicate her heavily. Today, the relative said, the three sons will be driven back to Los Angeles.

Once here, said Juarez, they will be given more medical treatment if necessary and told of their parents’ deaths.

“Little by little, the boys will learn the truth,” Juarez said. “We just want to make sure they’re all right first.”

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Meanwhile, Raul, whom Juarez said will see no news reports of his parents’ deaths, continued to express faith on Friday that his parents and brother had survived.

“I believe they will live,” he said by telephone. “I saw them after the accident happened. They couldn’t talk, but they were breathing. My mom is unconscious; that’s why they keep her isolated from us now. But she is very determined.”


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