WHITTIER — Expressing forgiveness and sorrow, more than 200 mourners on Saturday attended the funeral of six people killed in the deadliest traffic accident in Orange County history.
The graveside ceremony at Rose Hills Memorial Park was marked by tearful hymns and passages from the Bible as grieving families tried to comfort each other with the thought of rejoining their loved ones in heaven.
"I keep the hope alive in my mind of seeing my wife again one day with Christ," Carlos Oliva of Garden Grove told the crowd. Oliva lost two of his children and his wife, who was eight months' pregnant.
"I believe that God can forgive the person who caused this," he said, and then spoke to the driver who fled the accident scene. "Wherever you are, God can help you with your pain."
"Amen," the mourners responded.
The service was held for Rutilia Oliva, 31; her two sons, Carlos, 5, and Daniel, 2; her unborn daughter, Cindy; Iris Roman, 13, of Santa Ana; and Ericka Mendez, 16, of Garden Grove.
The Oliva family members were buried next to each other with Cindy in the same coffin as her mother. Mendez's coffin was included in the ceremony, though her body will be sent to Guatemala either today or Monday for burial.
A funeral was also held Saturday at Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora for Julio Guzman, 27, another crash victim. The body of an eighth victim, Sonia Castro, 30, will be buried in Guatemala. Both are from Santa Ana.
All were killed Sept. 20 on their way to services at the small Iglesia de Dios, the non-sectarian Church of God, in Santa Ana. Police said a pickup truck ran a red light and struck their crowded van broadside.
The impact spun the vehicle around, throwing 11 passengers onto the street. Eight died and three were injured.
Authorities believe that Fernando Hernandez Flores, 23, of Riverside fled the accident scene after crashing into the van. He might be in Mexico, they said.
At the service, mourners watched in stunned silence as five coffins were carried up a slight rise to the grave site by family and friends, who crowded around each casket.
Rosa Castro broke into sobs as the first coffin, belonging to her niece, Ericka, was brought up and placed on the ground. Octavio Valentin, the pastor of Iglesia de Dios, hugged Castro as she wept.
"We are in the presence of God," Valentin quietly said to all the mourners in Spanish.
"Hallelujah!" shouted a woman in the crowd.
Valentin, who had been driving the van when it was struck, spoke five more words and then started crying. "This has broken my heart," he told everyone.
When he continued talking, he raised his voice. "They have left for the presence of God," he said, looking down at the graves. "Always keep the families of the dead in your prayers."
Valentin's wife, Ana, then led members of the congregation in hymns about the strength of Christians. The mourners sang loudly and unevenly.
Bishop Isidro Ortiz, who heads Iglesia de Dios, to which the victims belonged, came from Puerto Rico to attend the ceremonies. He quoted Jesus from the New Testament: "He who believes in me, though he dies, will have eternal life." He told the families of the deceased they will be reunited in heaven.
Bob Mendoza came in uniform from the Santa Ana Fire Department to pay his respects to the dead. Mendoza, 35, had worked to save some of the crash victims last Sunday. "It hurts us all to see this tragedy," he said.
Fran Murphy, the principal of Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School in Garden Grove, came with Virginia Mack and four other teachers from the school to show their support.
Linda Puga , 43, who supervises Carlos Oliva's work as a color mixer at Weber Nameplate in Santa Ana, described her co-worker as "an exceptional person, and a very kind man." She came to the funeral with three other workers from Weber Nameplate.
Just before Mendez's coffin was removed, her parents, Miriam Lopez and Abel Mendez, both 34, clung to the coffin and wept loudly. They say they also will go to Guatemala for the burial.
Before the remaining coffins were lowered into the ground, the mourners held hands and sang religious songs. Then they threw flowers on the caskets. Puga too laid flowers on the graves and hugged Carlos Oliva. Then she began crying.
Angelica Gutierrez, 35, Iris Roman's aunt, collapsed from grief and heat at the end of the ceremony. Many of the other mourners gathered under shady trees and talked, drinking sodas and eating food that some had brought.