In Boyle Heights last November, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s sport-utility vehicle was responding to a radio call of a shooting when it smashed into a car at a busy intersection and jumped the sidewalk, hitting pedestrians and killing two boys.
Since then, questions have lingered about how fast the sheriff’s vehicle was going and whether the emergency lights and siren were on at the time.
The investigation into the fatal crash of Nov. 16 is ongoing, but detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Multi-Discipline Collision Investigation Team have provided more details about the deadly accident.
LAPD Det. Chris Rodriguez said the sheriff’s patrol vehicle was traveling less than 25 mph when it crossed the intersection of Indiana Street and Whittier Boulevard. The vehicle had its lights on but not its siren.
“No audible sounds were made by the emergency equipment of the police car,” Rodriguez said.
As it headed south on Indiana Street, the sheriff’s patrol vehicle crashed into a 1998 Honda Accord going east on Whittier Boulevard. The impact caused the Accord to hit a 2002 Honda Odyssey van that was carrying two women and five children. The van was stopped at a red light in the northbound lanes of Indiana Street.
Simultaneously, the sheriff’s SUV drove up a curb ramp, careened off the wall of a bank building and struck pedestrians on the sidewalk, including a woman and her two sons.
Video footage taken by a security camera at the Green Mill Liquor store showed what happened after the SUV struck the pedestrians. The short clip showed the front of the SUV — with its emergency lights on — hitting a trash can. A person rolled into the frame on the sidewalk.
Seven-year-old Jose Luis Hernandez was pronounced dead at the scene. His older brother, 9-year-old Marcos Antonio Hernandez, was declared dead at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, Rodriguez said.
The mother and relatives of the two boys could not be reached for comment for this story.
Ed Obayashi, a veteran professional standards expert and Inyo County deputy, said that when it comes to new patrol deputies, their training supervisor are responsible for guiding them.
“The question is here is what kind of direction did the supervisor give to trainees about the lights and siren?" Obayashi said.
Crashes involving police vehicles happen all the time, but rarely do they result in such serious and fatal injuries, he said.
California laws give officers considerable immunity when it comes to responding to serious crime responses. But in civil lawsuits, departments commonly pay considerable sums to those injured during a response or pursuit, he added.
In a statement placed on the family’s page on the GoFund me website, Jessa Ramos said her brothers were eager learners. They loved reading and drawing.
“They were both great students and used to fight for who was getting dropped off first at school,” she wrote.
She said the accident had left her mother in critical condition with a broken pelvic bone, head injury, fractured neck, leg and a broken nose.
In all, 17 people were involved in the three-vehicle accident.
At least one woman, who was a month pregnant at the time, was hit by both the Honda Accord and the sheriff’s SUV as she was crossing the intersection. Her unborn child was not harmed, Rodriguez said.
Attorneys for some of the victims declined to comment or could not be reached for comment. Relatives of the two boys who were killed also could not be reached for comment.
Rodriguez said that at the time of the crash, the sheriff’s patrol vehicle was being driven by a 30-year-old female trainee deputy, and her 39-year-old field training officer was in the passenger seat.
“She was on the job for two or three years and was starting the patrol aspect of her career,” he said.
Rodriguez said it would be up to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to release the name of the deputies. The agency has not responded to The Times’ public records request seeking their names.
A day after the fatal crash, the Sheriff's Department released a statement and expressed its condolences to the families of the crash victims.
"The LASD and its personnel are heavily impacted any time an incident involving our response to an emergency, or efforts to help others in need, results in injury or the loss of life," the statement read.
That same day, Julie Valle, 34, a resident of Boyle Heights, told The Times she was standing in the front parking lot of Stevenson Middle School with her two children, her dog and a relative when she saw the sheriff's patrol vehicle speeding south on Indiana Street, with no sirens and no emergency lights.
Valle said she watched as the vehicle approached Whittier Boulevard.
"The light was red on their end," she said. "They did a California roll and turned on the lights at the intersection and then hit a car."
The crashed caused a chain reaction, she said. The car heading east on Whittier Boulevard hit a person and a van that was on the northbound Lanes of Indiana Street. Valle said the cruiser lost control and went onto the sidewalk, hitting the wall of the Wells Fargo bank.
She said she ran down from the school to the intersection, where she helped an injured woman.
"She was trying to get up," Valle said. "I told her don't move, you were just involved in a car accident."
Then Valle said she took in the carnage.
"All I see is little legs," she said. "Then I see a boy, and that's when I start to get the full picture."
The mangled body of one boy lay near another. Their mother, she learned, was bleeding from the head.
Hector Lopez also told The Times that day that he was walking out of a store near the intersection when he heard a vehicle speed up. Within seconds he heard the sound of cars colliding and saw something fly through the air, possibly a bumper from one of the vehicles. Lopez said he did not hear any police sirens before the wreck.
"You're supposed to turn on your lights, sirens and check before taking off," Lopez said, adding that the family deserved "justice."
Lopez said he was not interviewed by police investigators.
Rodriguez said the results of the investigation will be submitted to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which will determine if criminal charges should be filed.
On a recent Tuesday outside Wells Fargo, a pile of dirty stuffed bears lay next to a bed of dry flowers. A broken statue of Jesus Christ and candles stood nearby. The memorial site, where a vigil was once held for the boys, is a daily reminder about what happened that day.
Leaning against the wall was a poster with a message from students of 32nd Street School-USC magnet school, which one of the Hernandez brothers attended.