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Man killed by motorist who plowed into a taco stand in Pomona is identified

People place flowers at a sidewalk memorial with votive candles
The Garbanzo family brings flowers Saturday for the victims of a crash in the 1600 block of Holt Avenue in Pomona.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

They were a cherished but anonymous part of the tapestry of northwest Pomona, a family, reportedly from somewhere in Los Angeles, who set up their taco stand on the sidewalk outside a busy Cardenas Market.

People lined up for their pastor and tortas — two for $10 on Tuesdays — enjoying their food without knowing the vendors’ names.

“I always get two tacos,” said 17-year-old Janice Garbanzo, who came to the scene with her parents Saturday to pay her respects. “The pastor guy would always chop a big hunk of pineapple and put it on top. I hope he’s OK.”

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On Friday night, a car traveling east on Holt Avenue veered across the westbound lanes and crashed into the taco stand, killing one patron and leaving 12 other people injured.

Pomona resident Gilberto Cazares Payan, 52, a father of four, was pronounced dead at the scene Friday night.

Ten others were taken to hospitals, three in critical condition.

The Pomona Police Department had not released the names of other victims Saturday afternoon or updated their conditions, and it was not clear which of the injured were customers or vendors.

Several people who came to witness the scene Saturday said they did not know much about the vendors but believed they lived in Los Angeles and had two other taco stands in San Bernardino County.

“They were good people,” said Erick Garbanzo, Janice’s father.

He said he came regularly with his wife and three daughters.

“I remember the face of the lady we used to Zelle to,” Garbanzo said. “And the pastor guy. He was always very kind.

“They never had a name, but I know there was about four or five of them,” he said. “They were a family. They didn’t speak that much English. But they were very hard-working people.”

Garbanzo said the traffic on Holt Avenue always worried him. He would go alone to stand in line while his family waited in the car.

“We’re very sad of what happened,” he said. “We’re praying that the rest of the guys are OK.”

The driver of the car, identified by police as a 26-year-old Pomona woman, was in custody. Aly Mejia, a spokesperson for the Pomona Police Department, said there had not been a determination whether drugs or alcohol were involved.

The Police Department reported on its Facebook page Saturday morning that the driver was being held in the city jail on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and hit-and-run with death/injury.

The post said the woman initially fled the scene and turned herself in about an hour and a half later.

The abandoned car, the demolished cart and a shade canopy were all gone Saturday morning. Bits of meat and cheese that scattered into the shrubs that separate the sidewalk from the parking lot remained as evidence of the terror of the night before.

Patrons of the taco stand and others who were curious milled around the scene through the morning Saturday, some leaving candles and flowers.

“We decided we were going to check it out,” Maritza Jimenez said. “We needed to take flowers if we were going to stop and just visualize what was going on.”

Jimenez said she and her husband are from the other side of town and love street tacos.

“We don’t really come down here,” she said. “But just to know that it was a taco stand and it was in the city of Pomona, it hits close to home.”

Javier Romero, 52, said he escaped being a victim by chance.

He came to the strip mall at Holt Avenue and Dudley Street with his two children to pay a phone bill and get something to eat. He did not have enough money to buy tacos, so they went to the market instead.

As they walked out, chaos unfolded in front of them.

“I saw everything all over the place,” Romero said. “Like people flying that way, a lady over by the driveway.”

He heard screaming but couldn’t make out words.

“Everybody screaming,” he said. “Everybody screaming. I think I’m two minutes to getting dead.”

Like several other onlookers Saturday, Romero said he admired the family who worked at the stand but did not know much about them.

“It’s really sad,” he said. “It’s hard-working guys trying to make a living for their families.”


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