A 20-year-old suspected drunk driver plowed into a car carrying a couple who were headed to work early Friday in Pasadena, killing them in a fiery crash that left a tight-knit family and a university grieving.
Jose Villegas, 51, and Maria Villegas, 49, popular custodial employees at Caltech, were killed at about 4:30 a.m. Friday. Police arrested Marvin Bolanos of Pasadena, who they said hit the Villegases' car at about 65 mph.
The crash at Walnut Street and North Lake Avenue was so violent the cars erupted in flames. Police and firefighters could not get the Villegases out of their car, but it's believed the collision killed them, Pasadena Police Lt. Randell Taylor said. Skid marks extended 250 yards, he said.
Bolanos was treated for unspecified injuries at Huntington Memorial Hospital and released to the jail ward at County/USC Medical Center. Booked on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, he was being held on $108,000 bail, Taylor said. Bolanos was wanted on a warrant for failing to appear in court on a previous DUI charge, Taylor said.
A passenger in Bolanos' vehicle, Rafael Perez, 20, suffered minor injuries; he was taken to Huntington Memorial, treated and released. Perez was not arrested, Taylor said.
The Villegases were Pasadena residents who emigrated from Mexico 30 years ago.
"They were Mom and Dad for a lot of our relatives," said their youngest son, also named Jose, 22. "They gave all my family the opportunity to come to America and make a life for ourselves."
As close as the couple was, however, it was a case of opposites attracting, their son said.
His father was so shy, he wouldn't dance--but if egged on, "his face would turn so red and his feet looked like they were on fire," he said. His mother, on the other hand, was outgoing and talkative.
"Mom really liked to dance," Jose said.
When the Villegases didn't show up at work on time, Caltech employees knew something was wrong. The couple rarely ever even called in sick, their son said.
His mother had worked about 10 years for Caltech; his father, three. He worked all over the campus, while she was responsible for maintenance at the provost's residence.
"My family was close to [Maria], as were many people on campus," said Provost Steve Koonin. "She typified the best of Caltech's employees."
A supervisor from the university, worried about the couple's absence, called the family, which sparked a string of phone calls to hospitals, and finally the Pasadena Police Department. A patrol car was sent to break the news, Jose Villegas said.
"They were so loved, so loved," he said.
The couple also are survived by daughters Leticia, 24, and Marisela, 26; and the elder Jose Villegas' parents, Jose Antonio and Ramona Villegas, who lived with the couple.