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5 Killed in Bakersfield Collision

Four family members and neighbor die as teen driver runs red light.

August 01, 2003|Jose Cardenas and Monte Morin | Times Staff Writers

A speeding car driven by a teenager ran a red light and struck and killed a Bakersfield woman, three of her children and their neighbor as they drove home from church services, the California Highway Patrol said Thursday.

The collision, which occurred at 9 p.m. Wednesday, left the bodies of one child and one adult, as well as the shoes of several victims, strewn across the intersection of Union Avenue and Wilson Road. The car in which they were riding had just edged into the intersection after getting a green signal when it was broadsided, CHP Officer Carrie Creel said. "They were just people passing through on the green light who were killed."

The victims, who belonged to a Spanish congregation of the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall on Wilson Road, were heading east in a Toyota Corolla. The car that struck them, a Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by a 17-year-old youth from Bakersfield, had been hit from behind by another vehicle moments before. The youth was chasing the car that hit his vehicle to catch a glimpse of its license plate number, according to the CHP. The Eclipse exceeded 90 mph as it traveled south on Union Avenue.

The Corolla had begun rolling through the intersection when it was struck on the driver's side with such force that Bakersfield Fire Department officials said they could not initially determine how many vehicles were involved in the accident.

CHP officers said they found a DVD of the drag-racing movie "The Fast and the Furious" on the floor of the teenager's car, but that racing was not a factor in the accident.

The driver of the speeding car was booked on five counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. His identity was not been released because he is a minor. All but one of the six occupants in the Corolla died, according to CHP Sgt. Travis Mitchell. The dead were identified Thursday as Antonia Chavez, 41; her children, Christopher Chavez, 13, and twins Elizabeth and Antonio Chavez, who celebrated their fifth birthday the day before, and their neighbor, Hector Vasquez, 19.

Christobal Chavez, Antonia's husband and father of the children, said his wife worked at a carrot packinghouse. She and the children were devoted to their religion.

"Every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, it was their days to go to the Kingdom Hall," Chavez, 43, said in Spanish.

He said the grief after the tragedy had left him weak.

"I don't have breath to speak," he said.

The survivor was identified as another daughter, Janette Chavez, 16, who suffered moderate injuries and has been released from a hospital.

Janette and her mother were wearing seat belts, the highway patrol said.

The impact of the crash ejected two victims from the vehicle, while the others were pinned inside the car, Mitchell said.

Investigators said that the speeding car had three occupants in addition to the driver, all Bakersfield residents. Cileen Patino, 18, was severely injured. Tiffany Foster, 18, and Cecil Blont, 20, sustained moderate injuries. They will not be charged in the incident, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said that investigators were still searching for the white vehicle that reportedly rear-ended the Eclipse, although the CHP did not believe the white car was involved in the fatal accident.

"We are pretty sure we did have a prior minor hit-and-run accident," Mitchell said.

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