Members of an Arleta church spent Tuesday fasting and praying for a 17-year-old Sepulveda girl who was the only survivor of a head-on collision that killed four of her fellow parishioners when their car was hit by a suspected drunk driver near Fresno.
Ana Chavira, whose brothers Fabian, 20, and Ishmael, 19, died in the fiery crash Saturday, remained in serious but stable condition Tuesday at Valley Medical Center in Fresno, officials said. Hospital spokeswoman Barbara Ellis said the girl's condition was improving. She had been admitted in critical condition with internal injuries and cuts to her head following the 9:20 a.m. crash in Selma, 15 miles south of Fresno.
Also killed in the crash were Veronica Orozco, 19, and Ruth Castro, 19, both of Arleta.
California Highway Patrol officer Gary Frye said Orozco, Castro and Fabian Chavira died instantly. Ishmael Chavira was pronounced dead about three hours later at Valley Medical Center.
All four were active members of the youth group and choir at Evangelical Christian Spiritual Church, a predominantly Latino congregation of 325 people, said the church's pastor, Juan Sierra. They were on their way to a church youth gathering in Fresno.
"Whatever activities that were held, they always participated," Sierra said. "They were leadership material."
The Chavira brothers were both enrolled in the general studies program at Cal State Northridge. Orozco, who lived with her sister in Arleta, and Castro, who lived with her parents, worked as part-time baby-sitters, relatives said.
Ana, a senior at Monroe High School in Sepulveda, had been planning to marry parishioner Anastacio Gallegos, 18, in October, but her injuries may delay the wedding, according to friends.
The crash was caused by a suspected drunk driver traveling more than 90 m.p.h. on Highway 99, the main thoroughfare connecting communities in California's San Joaquin Valley, the CHP said.
Rodrigo Maravilla, 23, of San Jose was driving south on the freeway in the fast lane when his pickup truck struck the back of a Chevrolet Blazer, which flipped in the center divider, Frye said. The pickup then crossed the center divider and struck Fabian Chavira's Ford Thunderbird head on, he said.
"They probably never knew what hit them," Frye said.
Maravilla was being held at the Fresno County Jail on suspicion of drunk driving and manslaughter, Frye said. He suffered a cut chin and a broken jaw but he was not hospitalized, Frye said.
The driver of the Blazer, Thon Sin, 39, of Fresno, suffered a cut to his head and complained of chest and head pains, Frye said.
The youths were in a caravan of five cars on their way to a youth gathering at a church in Fresno. Church member Bertha Gonzales, 22, said that in her rearview mirror she saw a cloud of dust envelope the Thunderbird driven by Fabian Chavira. Rocks pelted her car and she froze in panic.
"I hope Fabian won't get scared like I did," Gonzales remembered thinking.
"We didn't think anything had happened to our friends," she said.
When she returned to the crash scene to see what had happened, she recognized a heart-shaped souvenir hanging behind the rear side window of the crumpled car. The heart had been a gift from Fabian's girlfriend.
"I got so nervous I couldn't talk," said Gonzales, who was then told by an officer to leave the scene and wait at the Highway Patrol office for more information.
On Tuesday, church members, relatives and friends gathered at Veronica Orozco's house, just blocks from the church, to mourn and remember their loved ones.
"She was happy. She was always smiling," Joel Castro said of his sister, Ruth. "She was very close to her friends. She died with her best friends."
Sierra and parishioner Ana Gallegos remembered Fabian Chavira as a devout Christian who went out of his way to help others.
"Fabian was the type who never got mad with anybody," Ana Gallegos said. "He would always care for someone else rather than himself."
In addition to participating in the youth group and choir, Fabian Chavira was the church treasurer, Sierra said. He and his brother had recently returned from an evangelizing trip to Costa Rica, Sierra said.
"Their lives left an example for the church to follow," Sierra said.