A 43-year-old woman who stopped on the roadside to help her son was killed by an alleged drunk driver Thursday, shortly before the two were to meet family and friends at the wedding rehearsal of the young man, who was seriously injured.
On Friday, the bride-to-be, Shante Scott, 18, was at the hospital bed of her fiance, Jason McMillan, 20, as he was being prepared for surgery to repair a crushed leg and fractured pelvis. He was later listed in fair condition at Ventura County Medical Center.
"I'm still waiting to wake up from a dream," she said. "But I know I can't because it's real."
The accident happened about 6:15 p.m. Thursday as two dozen people waited for McMillan and his mother, Robin McDonald-Gwaltney, to arrive at the rehearsal at the Church of Angels wedding chapel in Santa Paula.
McDonald-Gwaltney left the chapel to pick up McMillan after his Ford Mustang broke down on Highway 126.
As McDonald-Gwaltney was transferring tuxedos from the Mustang to her BMW, a pickup truck driven by Sergio Casas of Fillmore drifted onto the shoulder and crashed into her, authorities said. The BMW lunged forward, pinning McMillan between his mother's car and his Mustang. A friend standing nearby, Vince Alonzo, 23, of Ventura, was not injured.
Casas, 36, a California Department of Transportation maintenance worker who was not on duty, was taken into custody and booked on suspicion of drunk driving and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, authorities said. Casas, who was cited twice last year for speeding, was released Friday on $50,000 bail, a Ventura jail spokeswoman said.
At the chapel, six groomsmen, six bridesmaids, family members and the bride-to-be waited for the pair, but after 30 minutes did a run-through, said groomsman Lee Lewis.
Minutes later, they learned about the accident and rushed to Santa Paula Memorial Hospital, where they were told McDonald-Gwaltney had died.
"It is so sad," said bridesmaid Iresha Lee on Friday. "Today is supposed to be a wedding and there is no wedding, and the groom lost his mom."
Acquaintances described McDonald-Gwaltney as a woman who was devoted to her family and to her faith.
A 16-year member of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Oxnard, she had volunteered as a church secretary, clerk and choir member.
"She was a real sweetheart and everyone loved her," said Pastor J.B. Williams.
She also held down two jobs at the naval bases in Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, and recently put herself through community college, friends said.
"She was one of the hardest-working women I ever met," said fellow church member Rosalind Harris. "She was beautiful, inside and out."
McDonald-Gwaltney had thrown herself into the wedding preparations, taking charge of the planning and enjoying every moment of it, Lee said.
The bride-to-be and bridegroom have known each other for five years. Scott worked as a department-store clerk while doing independent study at El Camino High School in Ventura. McMillan, a graduate of Hueneme High School in Oxnard, works as an assistant manager at a sandwich shop and also as a clerk at a Camarillo dental office.
At the Santa Paula wedding chapel on Friday, friends who had not heard the news arrived shortly after 3 p.m., only to be met by Pauline Roll, the chapel's owner.
A young man in a blue dress shirt and dark pants approached Roll, asking, "Is the wedding here?" Roll cleared her throat and said, "We had a bit of a catastrophe last night."
The wedding will go on, but not immediately, said Scott, who is nearly six months pregnant.
"We're just going to put it off for a later time, when things settle down," she said. Scott occasionally broke into tears as she spoke.
Time staff writers Steve Chawkins, Timothy Hughes, Margaret Talev Matt Surman and Jenifer Ragland contributed to this story.