TIJUANA — A brother and sister from San Ysidro who died together in a weekend traffic collision near Los Angeles were buried together in the same grave Friday at a Tijuana cemetery.
Ernestina Sanchez, who would have been 14 on Sept. 30, and her brother, Ernesto Jr., who turned 5 last month, were buried as their grief-stricken family and friends wept. Although the children were U.S. citizens, parents Ernesto and Cecilia Sanchez are unemployed and said they could not afford to bury them in their native country.
The parents knelt at the rocky grave site beside the open coffin of their daughter to bid a tearful goodby. The coffin of the boy, who suffered injuries to his face and head, was never opened.
A family member cried out in Spanish, "No. Not yet!" as the boy's small coffin was lowered over that of his sister. Moments later, cemetery workers laid four concrete slabs over the coffins. Then the mourners watched as workers poured two wheelbarrows full of cement into the grave before covering it with dirt.
"It seems so final. They truly have been taken away from us," said a family member from Los Angeles who attended the funeral.
As the Sanchez children were being buried in the dusty cemetery, Ernestina's twin sister, Cristina, was recovering at a Los Angeles hospital from injuries received in the same crash. She suffered a fractured left leg and foot and had begged to attend the funeral, said Ernesto Sanchez, 32.
The crash occurred at about 1 p.m. Sunday near the Pioneer Boulevard off-ramp on the southbound Santa Ana Freeway. According to California Highway Patrol and family accounts, Cecilia Sanchez stopped the pickup she was driving on the shoulder of the freeway so that another son, Isaac, 7, could go to the bathroom.
Ten people were lying in the open bed of the truck and four were riding in the front on a return trip from La Puente, where the family had visited a relative. The driver of another pickup, Michael Kenneth Andersen, 35, slammed into the the rear of Sanchez's stopped vehicle, according to the CHP.
Also killed in the collision were Cecilia Sanchez's sister, 22-year-old Angelica Flores, who was eight months pregnant. Flores' daughter, Vanessa, 2, also died in the crash.
Another sister, Irma Flores, 20, was injured and is in critical condition at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Irma Flores' daughter, Monica Paz, 6, is in serious condition at the same hospital.
The the Sanchezes' other daughter, Adriana, 10, was not hurt.
CHP spokesman Sgt. Mike Brey said that Andersen was convicted of drunken driving in 1981 and 1984 and was involved in another traffic collision Jan. 20. His license was suspended for a year in 1984, and he was convicted in 1985 for driving with a suspended license.
Andersen is being held without bail on manslaughter charges.
About 200 people crowded into a Tijuana funeral home before the bodies were taken to the cemetery. Ernesto and Cecilia Sanchez, both red-eyed and drawn from an all-night vigil beside the coffins of their children, wondered if Ernestina could have been saved if medical help had arrived sooner.
"When the accident occurred, both sides of the freeway came to a complete stop. It took 30 minutes before an ambulance could arrive," Mrs. Sanchez said. "It was very frustrating because I could see the ambulance, far away, slowly making its way around the stopped cars."
Ernestina lived for several minutes after the crash but died at the scene. Ernestina and Cristina were scheduled to begin classes at San Ysidro Middle School last Monday. Ernesto Jr. was to have been enrolled in preschool at Willow Elementary.
Although the couple are grief-stricken about the deaths and have hired an attorney to pursue legal action against Andersen, they said they harbor no ill will against the man. The couple are devout Jehovah's Witnesses and said they find strength in their religion.
"We don't want him killed, but we will seek justice," Ernesto Sanchez said. "However, justice is very hard to get in the United States if you are poor, like us."
The childrens' deaths mark the second tragedy to befall Sanchez in the past 2 1/2 years. On Feb. 27, 1988, Sanchez was seriously wounded and his brother, Jose Manuel, killed when Lee Roy Garcia shot both of them with a shotgun in Logan Heights. An uncle, Antonio Sanchez, was also wounded.
Police said that Garcia shot the three men after a dispute over a car blocking traffic in a narrow alley. Sanchez said that Garcia was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in state prison.
Sanchez said he was a truck driver at the time of the incident, but the shooting permanently disabled him, leaving him unable to work.
"During the trial it seemed like the judge and everyone was only concerned about Garcia's rights," he said. "Nobody cared about us or asked about our rights as victims. I suspect it will be the same thing with the man who killed my children. When he goes to court, everyone will be concerned about his rights and nobody will remember the hurt that he gave us. Nobody will remember Ernestina and Ernesto."