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Trying to Explain Death to a Child at Christmas

Accident: Friends and relatives mourn woman killed when a body fell from a freeway overpass onto her car.

December 25, 2001|MILTON CARRERO GALARZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Terry Gray is struggling this Christmas Day to explain to his son something that he himself cannot understand: Why 5-year-old Terry will never see his mother again.

Gray is haunted by the Friday afternoon scene that changed his life and that of his son. That day, Gray and his girlfriend, Sandra Dyer, were passing beneath the Harbor Freeway when a man's body dropped from the overpass onto the roof of their car. The man had shot and killed his wife and then shot himself at the edge of the freeway.

That chain of events has staggered Gray, who said his son seems stronger than he is.

"Dad, I understand," the boy said. "I know she is gone, but I'm going to see her when my eyes are closed in my dreams."

Osmin Ernesto Bonilla's decision to kill his 21-year-old wife, Alejandra Hernandez, and then himself has left at least three families mourning this Christmas.

Bonilla, 28, who has been described by relatives and neighbors as an alcoholic with a volatile temper, shot Hernandez outside her family's home in South-Central. He then drove to a Century Freeway connector to the northbound Harbor Freeway, stood at the edge of the overpass, shot himself and fell 80 feet onto Dyer's new Toyota Camry.

The Bonilla and Hernandez families are united in grief by the couple's three daughters, a 3-year-old and 18-month-old twins.

Meanwhile, Dyer, 34, left two sons, one from a previous marriage and the 5-year-old she had with Gray. Although riding in the car next to her, Gray was not seriously hurt in the accident.

Gray said the couple were going to do Christmas shopping the day of the tragedy. They were on the way to pick up Terry from school to take him to his grandmother's job at Martin Luther King Hospital.

"All of the sudden, you felt like a ton of bricks fell on the car," he said. "It felt like the whole world fell on us."

Gray remembers looking at Dyer after the impact. She was unconscious, he said, her foot still on the gas pedal. He said the car was traveling about 50 mph in the right lane of the freeway. Gray managed to get his foot on the brakes and steer the car out of traffic with his left hand.

A woman approached the car, and began screaming. She said she was a nurse and volunteered to perform CPR on Dyer. Gray was lifted out of the car by other people.

"Somebody, help Sandra!" he remembers yelling. "I was only thinking about her. I could open my eyes, I could breathe. I didn't know if I had internal injuries, but I felt OK."

Dyer was transferred to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where she died.

Gray was taken to Martin Luther King Hospital and released with a stitched forehead and a shoulder laceration. Gray, who had been with Dyer for seven years, tried to see her body, but was not allowed, he said, because he was not her husband.

Gray described Dyer as a hard-working woman who did everything she could to raise her boys to become good men.

Other members of her family remembered her smile and her ability to cheer people up.

Her sister, Brande Knox, described Gray as "bubbly" and recalled her devotion to her children.

"She could walk to a room of sad people and turn it into happiness," said Richard Dyer, who considered himself her favorite uncle.

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