Share

A Date With Tragedy : Hit-and-Run Accident Claims Life of Girl, 16, After Homecoming Dance

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The day she turned 16, Lilia Barajas slipped into a tight black dress and platform shoes, blessed herself and left home on her first date ever.

Her mother, Lupe, had a warning.

“Be careful. You don’t know what other people are doing out there.”

Within hours, Barajas had been struck by a hit-and-run driver after leaving the Glendale High School homecoming dance Friday. She died of massive head injuries on Saturday at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Advertisement

While police sought witnesses Monday to the tragedy, which took place near The Castaway banquet rooms in Burbank, Lilia’s date nursed the broken arm he suffered as he tried to pull her away from danger.

Gonzalo Espinoza, 16 and a junior at Allan F. Daily High School, said in an interview they had been walking down a hillside road when they saw the car speeding toward them with bright headlights on.

Espinoza said he urged Barajas to cross the road quickly to reach the safety of a sidewalk, but she struggled in her platform shoes. Both crossed the center divider and were struck as the car swerved into the lane for oncoming traffic.

Advertisement

“As it was coming, I told her, ‘Get on the left-hand side before you get run over,’ ” he recalled. “We tried walking faster, but the car came faster. I tried to pull her. She was in shock. She was scared. She stood still. There was nothing I could do.

“These types of things happen, but I’m angry. Why would (the driver) just run straight at us? I just don’t understand.”

Police on Monday interviewed Glendale High School students and compiled a list of names of the estimated 1,000 people who were using the banquet rooms.

Advertisement

In addition to the homecoming dance Friday, police said, two other functions were taking place when a dark 1983 to 1987 Chevrolet Camaro sped out of one of The Castaway’s parking lots: a wedding banquet and a gathering of Armenian students from UCLA.

“There has to be witnesses,” said Burbank Police Detective Richard A. Bison. “Somebody saw this accident. There’s no doubt in my mind.

“Or somebody knows whose vehicle this was.”

At the campus of Glendale High School, Barajas’ death dampened the spirits of students who had just completed a successful homecoming week, capped by the football team’s first win of the season.

Advertisement

Between classes, some students wept as they spoke of the tragedy. Others smiled at the memory of a girl who was neither a leader nor a loser, a fun-loving teen-ager who liked to shop at the Glendale Galleria.

“She was really happy that night. And she died happy,” said Lisset Gomez, 16.

Friends and family say the 11th-grader was thrilled about turning 16 and celebrating at the homecoming dance.

Advertisement

The theme for the dance was “One More Night” and Barajas was going with Espinoza, a former boyfriend from junior high.

Barajas’ mother said she worried constantly about her daughter’s safety at night and regularly asked questions about whom she was going out with and when she would return.

This time, she said speaking through an interpreter, there seemed to be no reason to worry. Family members stayed at Barajas’ bedside for hours, softly whispering into her ear and watching her try to move her finger.

Advertisement

“I was telling her to get better. We’d fix her room and take her out to celebrate,” said Barajas’ sister, Sonia, 21. “Tears rolled down her eyes.

“Somebody has to pay for what they did to her. I lost my baby sister on her birthday. Why is she paying for this? This is so unfair. We need help.”