Woman Loses Control of Car, Hits 4 Relatives

Times Staff Writer

A driving lesson ended in tragedy Tuesday when a Santa Ana mother lost control of the car she was trying to park, and it lurched forward and injured four relatives watching from a curb.

The most seriously injured was the woman's 15-month-old son, who was taken to a local hospital in serious condition with multiple skull fractures.

"The kids were all screaming and yelling," said Char Roberts, the family's next-door neighbor who saw the accident from her front lawn. "It was heart-wrenching."

The victims' names were not released late Tuesday. The extent of the other victims' injuries was not immediately available, authorities said.

Santa Ana police spokesman Sgt. Baltazar De La Riva said charges may be sought against Maria Dulce Carmona, 27, who witnesses said was learning to drive a 1991 Nissan 240 with someone sitting next to her in the front seat.

"She is unlicensed as far as we know," De La Riva said. "It's still too early to determine what charges will be filed."

The accident occurred about 2:40 p.m. in front of the family's home in the 2400 block of Ponderosa Street in northeastern Santa Ana when Carmona was taking a driving lesson while four relatives watched, De La Riva said. Sitting at the curb were her 15-month-old son, her 3-year-old son, a 3-year-old niece and her 19-year-old sister.

Carmona was preparing to practice parallel parking, De La Riva said, when "for unknown reasons she accelerated and ran over all four."

Witnesses speculated that Carmona may have accidentally stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake.

"I heard a crunch and a scream, turned around and the car was still moving," Roberts said. "It had gone up on the curb. When I realized that the kids were still there, I called police. I was in absolute shock."

Another neighbor, Alisha Gallardo, 11, said she saw the man sitting next to Carmona jump into the driver's seat and back up the car. "It really scared me," she said. "I felt really sad for those little kids."

The accident was similar to one last year in which a woman accidentally jumped a curb in front of an Anaheim elementary school and killed two young girls waiting for a ride.

Maria Martinez Juarez, 51, recently apologized to the girls' families and pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. She could receive as much as a year in jail at her April 1 sentencing.

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