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7 Victims of Thanksgiving Day Accident Mourned

December 01, 1988|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

His co-workers chided him for his slow driving. They called him "The Turtle" for keeping under the speed limit. They knew him as a methodical man who was never in a rush.

Just why Frank R. Shoults was traveling on the wrong side of California 126 on Thanksgiving morning may never be known. He died that day--as did five others and an unborn child in the car he struck just east of Fish Hatchery Road outside Fillmore.

"This guy was the quintessential safety-conscious person. He did not drink and drive. He did not speed," said Ron Marchelletta, who supervised Shoults, an electro-mechanical engineer at the Calleguas Municipal Water District in Thousand Oaks.

Marchelletta said the 43-year-old Shoults, who was divorced three times and has two teen-age daughters in Birmingham, Ala., was driving to his sister's house in Valencia for Thanksgiving dinner when the accident occurred.

Police said the lack of skid marks at the accident site indicates that Shoults may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Full and empty beer cans were found in the cab and bed of his Dodge Dakota pickup truck, according to police reports. Toxicological tests to determine whether he had been drinking are pending.

Whatever the case, the accident left not only his family in mourning, but almost everybody in tiny San Juan/El Centro, a village in central Mexico about 450 miles south of Brownsville, Tex.

Most everybody in the town of 1,500 knew the Correa family.

They were eight children in all, four of them sons, in the hard-working, well-liked clan.

When he was 22 in 1983, Magdaleno Correa gave up trying to grow corn in San Juan and headed to the United States, where he could earn more as a farm laborer in the Southern California fields. Two other brothers soon followed.

Like many Mexicans who come to the United States, the Correas religiously sent money home to their family. Two years ago on a visit to his hometown, which is near Jerez in the state of Zacatecas, Magdaleno Correa married his childhood sweetheart, Eva Vega, and brought her back to Santa Ana, where he had settled.

Wife Pregnant

Last Thursday, as those in his adopted land prepared to sit down to Thanksgiving feasts, Magdaleno had his own reasons to give thanks. Eva, 28, was 5 months pregnant, and he was driving his Hyundai along California 126 in Ventura County to Eva's sister's house in Santa Paula, where they were expected at a family reunion.

In the back seat were two other San Juan expatriates, 23-year-old Saul Gutierrez de la Cueva of Irvine and 34-year-old Francisco Javier Mejia of Santa Ana, as well as Magdaleno's 20-year-old brother, Fernando, who lived in Costa Mesa.

But the reunion never happened.

First to come across the wreckage was Magdaleno's brother, Pedro of Costa Mesa, who was following the Hyundai in a separate car with his wife and child. He stopped, recognized the car, whose front had crumpled like an accordion, and broke into tears.

Soon after, he was asked to identify the bodies, and Mumercinda Vega Esquinal, who was waiting patiently in Santa Paula for her sister to arrive, learned that she wouldn't be celebrating Thanksgiving at all this year.

Oxnard Ceremony

A modest ceremony was held Saturday at the Garcia Mortuary in Oxnard, a spokesman said. At the request of the remaining family members, the bodies are en route to San Juan/El Centro for burial in the municipal cemetery.

There, practically the entire community is in mourning, said Irena Carillo des Casas, a hometown acquaintance who fields all telephone calls coming in to San Juan/El Centro.

"They were young working men, sober men," Carillo des Casas said during a telephone interview. "All of us here are very sad for the tragedy of these people who died."

Carillo des Casas said the Correa family is filled with too much pain and sorrow to talk to outsiders. The entire community awaits the funeral, she said.

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