Fatal Crash Leaves Family Struggling for Survival

Times Staff Writer

A holiday traffic accident in Mexico is threatening to destroy a family's 20-year-journey toward financial stability.

For the Garcia family of Perris, celebrating Christmas has for decades meant a visit to the family's hometown in Michoacan.

There, they have been reunited with relatives who now live throughout the United States and Mexico, enjoying a few days with family before returning to the lives that have provided material rewards but kept them apart.

This year began like every other: Francisco and Luz Garcia, along with two of their sons Greco, 18, and Jesse, 9, had a grand time.

But on Jan. 4, four hours into their long drive back, their minivan drifted off the road, rolled over and crashed into a ravine.

The crash killed Francisco, 51, a gardener. Luz, 46, remains in a Guadalajara hospital, recovering from back injuries.

With medical bills of about $30,000 and no insurance, the family now thinks one bad turn on a Mexican road might end up costing them much of what they struggled for so long to scrape together.

Francisco and Luz's grown children, Frank, 29, and Fabiola, 26, who were in Southern California with their spouses and children when the crash occurred, have flown to Mexico to be with their mother while trying to find a way to cover the expenses.

Frank, interviewed by telephone from his mother's hospital room, said he is trying to negotiate a payment plan with the hospital while taking stock of what the family might be able to liquidate to help cover the bills.

One possibility is selling the house in their hometown of Sahuayo, Michoacan, built over several years with Francisco and Luz's savings. The 1,200-square-foot house might bring $15,000, Frank said.

More troubling, he said, is the prospect that they might have to sell the family home in Perris. But the equity in that home, which the Garcias purchased in 1998, also falls short, Frank said.

Selling the Perris house also would displace two other sons Jesse and Greco, who was born severely retarded and is cared for full time by Luz.

Frank, a purchasing manager for an aerospace company, said he recently plowed his savings into a small first house for his own family of four.

If necessary, he said, his mother and brothers will move in with him.

Frank, who lives in Anaheim, said his parents did not purchase Mexican accident insurance on this trip because the sales office was closed.

"The one time you don't do it, it happens," he said. After the crash, 9-year-old Jesse, who had only cuts and bruises, took charge.

The boy made his way to the front of the van, pulled his parents' wallets from their pockets for safekeeping, then ran to look for help.

When he spotted a house, Jesse, who is bilingual, was able to ask the occupants to call an ambulance, Frank said.

Francisco, who like his own father had been a barber in Sahuayo, moved to Santa Ana in 1980, leaving Luz, Frank and Fabiola behind.

In four years, he had become established enough for the family to join him in this country.

Much of the family's attention had been focused on Greco, said Stan Schultz, an advisor who works with the Garcia family on managing a small trust fund established for Greco from a lawsuit settlement with the hospital where the boy was born.

Francisco Garcia had hoped to move back to Sahuayo when his children were grown, opening another barber shop, son Frank said.

Schultz said the family had considered drawing from Greco's $65,000 trust fund, but the court won't allow that, because the money is meant to cover Greco's lifetime expenses.

That leaves one less option for Francisco's grown children to try to help the family out of its crisis, Schultz said.

"They idolized their father," Schultz said of the Garcia children. "Now they have to take over for him to care for their younger brother.

"But if anybody's going to make it, they will."

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