The driver arrested in the deaths of three 13-year-old girls as they were trick-or-treating on Halloween night had been convicted of hit-and-run and drunk driving just two months earlier and was behind the wheel even though his license had been suspended, court records show.
In both cases, police say, Jaquinn Bell, 31, was driving with his own children, ages 14 and 17, in the car.
Santa Ana police revealed new details Monday about the latest incident. They said Bell never hit the brakes after slamming into the young trick-or-treaters Friday around 6:45 p.m., and he abandoned his Honda SUV in a nearby retail parking lot, running off with his children.
He was arrested midday Sunday and police said they were trying to determine whether he was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Bell is being held on $500,000 bail and is expected to be formally charged with felony hit-and-run driving this week.
Bell’s criminal record dates to 2009 when he was placed on probation after pleading guilty in a domestic violence case. Since then, court records show he has violated probation seven times and that he has usually been punished with short jail sentences and orders to attend substance abuse and child endangerment treatment programs.
In Santa Ana early Monday, residents in the densely packed neighborhood where the girls were hit said they were trying to regroup after an emotional weekend.
Twin sisters Lexia and Lexandra Perez and their friend, Andrea Gonzales, were out for a night of trick-or-treating when they were struck while crossing Fairhaven Avenue at Old Grand Street.
A pall quickly descended over the neighborhood as parents and children — many still in costume — gathered. By Monday, a makeshift memorial had grown near the crosswalk.
Andrea’s brother, Josafat Gonzalez, 21, said though he was heartened by an arrest in the case, it did little to dampen the sorrow. “It won’t bring my sister back,” he said.
“I’m angry, I’m angry,” added the twins’ uncle, Hermenegildo Ramirez Perez, 45. “It’s not right.”
He said the girls’ parents had separated and their father had been deported to Mexico. Perez said he now is waiting to see whether his brother will be allowed to return to the United States to attend his daughters’ funerals.
On Monday, some came to pay their respects at the street corner, one person making the sign of the cross over his body. The city manager of Santa Ana and other city employees stopped at the memorial. Others placed money in shoe boxes to help with funeral costs.
Half-brothers Shane Chesser and Wayne Flynn looked on from their front yard, just down the street from the scene of the collision. The bowl of Kit Kats, Snickers and other treats they’d planned to hand out was still full. The trick-or-treaters had stopped arriving after the crash. And by the next day, the pair had taken down the fake grave site decorations in front of their home.
“All Halloweens will be different now, that’s for sure,” said Flynn, 31.
A crossing guard known to students at Fairhaven Elementary as Mr. James left his folding chair — his usual roost between trips of shepherding young students across the busy street — in his truck Monday.
The spot where he usually parked his chair had been covered with bouquets of flowers, candles and a plastic Halloween candy bowl.
“It was very heartbreaking just to hear that,” he said. “I’m here trying to keep these kids as safe as I can.”
Teachers at the elementary school said they recalled all three girls when they were students, describing them as sweet, thoughtful and hard-working children who became fast friends in their early school years.
The speed limit on Fairhaven, a straight, wide-open avenue that cuts through a residential neighborhood, is 45 mph, but only a single reflective crossing sign and a yellow crosswalk marks the path, which parents and neighbors said is poorly lit. On Monday, residents began to organize an effort to push for a street light or flickering lights in the road.
Memorial fundraisers in the girls’ names have also been set up online and by the Santa Ana Police Officers Assn. Widows and Orphans Fund. And a carwash has already been planned in the elementary school parking lot Saturday.
Mayor Miguel Pulido said he was so touched by the efforts to raise money that he told everyone he met that “we would all, as a community, would help.”
“I also want to mention that as a father of three, you know this could be something that could happen to any of our children,” Pulido said.
Clarissa Cisneros, 17, said her grandmother and brother had been waiting to pull out of their driveway to get pizza when the crash occurred.
Clarissa went running to Andrea, who she said was still breathing. She called out to her brother to come help, but by the time he arrived, the girl’s breathing had stopped.
She wasn’t sure if the other two girls wore costumes, but Andrea had been dressed like a skeleton.
John Hall arrived Monday at the Santa Ana street corner with a handful of white flowers, drawn by a feeling of “absolute sadness.”
Hall, 52, didn’t know any of the girls who’d been killed in the crosswalk Halloween night, but he said he had two children of his own and was so haunted by what had happened that he got up in the middle of the night and kissed each of them as they slept.
“My kids went out on Halloween too,” he said.