Distraught O.C. man seeks 'justice' for his dead son

Times Staff Writer

The father of a 7-year-old boy killed at a Westminster bus stop by a driver reaching for his cellphone stood in front of the hospital where his wife lay in critical condition Thursday to demand that justice be done.

"This is a crime," Manuel Rojas, 35, told reporters gathered near the entrance of the UCI Medical Center in Orange. "Today my wife asked, 'What about my son?' I had to tell her that he died."

Carrying a photograph of his wife, Eugenia Campos, 33, Rojas said he felt helpless knowing that he couldn't "bring back my son." The accident "is truly an injustice," said the father, a construction worker from Garden Grove. "I ask that justice be made."

The accident occurred Wednesday when an SUV driven by William Splitter of Huntington Beach jumped a curb and rammed into the bus stop at Garden Grove Boulevard and Edwards Street where Campos was waiting with her three children.

Juan Rojas died at the scene. His sister Jacqueline Rojas, 13, who had tried to lift the vehicle off her brother, was seriously injured. A second sister, Vanessa Rojas, 10, was hurt slightly.

Campos suffered a ruptured spleen, bruised lung, broken pelvis and broken ribs, Dr. Darren Malinoski, her trauma surgeon, said Thursday. "She's improving and is doing well."

Jacqueline's condition had been upgraded from critical to serious, Malinoski said.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, Westminster Police Sgt. Dan Schoonmaker said.

Splitter, 71, was being cooperative, police said. The case will be turned over to the district attorney's office when the investigation is complete.

"There are many factors involved in a case like this, and until we know what happened we will not speculate about charges," said Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney's office.

Splitter told police he was trying to make a right turn when he reached down for a cellphone and lost control of his car. The new state law making it illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving except in an emergency doesn't take effect until July 2008.

News of the accident came as an emotional jolt for administrators, teachers and staff at Finley Elementary School, which Juan attended along with Vanessa. "When I heard the news that it was the Rojas family," Principal Paula Mills said, "I knew exactly who they were."

According to school officials, the family recently moved out of an apartment complex adjacent to the school because they couldn't afford a steep increase in rent.

As a consequence, Juan's father dropped the children off each day before work. In the afternoon, Mills said, the mother would take the bus from their new apartment in Garden Grove to a stop near the school before walking half a mile to pick the children up by 2 p.m.

"He was very proud of the fact that he was learning how to speak and read English in his first year," Mills said of Juan, who started at Finley as a first-grader knowing hardly any English. "As a second-grader, he would talk your head off in English."

Dolly Camei, Juan's second-grade teacher, described him through Mills as a "really nice kid" and an energetic young boy who was a little gentleman until it came to playing soccer.

"He was very competitive," the teacher told Mills.

On Thursday the school district assigned counselors to Finley and sent letters home with each student notifying parents.

A fund to help the family with funeral and medical expenses is being set up, Westminster school district officials said.


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