The family of a Hacienda Heights woman killed along with three of her daughters in a freeway accident remembered them Monday as avid churchgoers who would make the 23-mile trip to their Los Angeles congregation several times a week.
Brenda Martinez, 33, along with her daughters Sindy Estrada, 14; Sussy Estrada, 13; Diana Estrada, 12; and Brenda Estrada, 3, were on their way to church at about 5:50 p.m. Sunday when the left rear tire of their Toyota 4-Runner blew out, said California Highway Patrol Officer Jesse Cazares.
Cazares said the SUV then swirled, hit a guardrail head-on and crashed against a signpost, scraping the left side of the car. The accident happened just west of Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles on the Pomona Freeway.
Brenda Martinez, Sindy and Sussy Estrada were declared dead at the scene and 3-year-old Brenda Estrada was taken to County-USC Medical Center, where she died, Cazares said. The three girls were riding in the back seat and were ejected from the car.
Twelve-year-old Diana Estrada survived the crash and was also taken to County-USC Medical Center, where she was treated for bruises on her left arm and released a few hours later. Investigators believe Diana was the only one wearing a seat belt.
"She was crying and stuttering and saying, 'My mom just got into an accident, come quick,' " said Wendy Estrada, the family's oldest child and the one who answered the phone when Diana called from a cell phone she borrowed from a passerby who stopped to help. "She said my mom was unconscious."
Jorge Estrada, the family's patriarch and Brenda's husband, hitched a ride with a nephew and rushed to the crash scene. By then, traffic had backed up for miles so he took off running among the halted cars.
"It's the hardest thing that can happen to you in life," said Estrada, a construction worker. "To wait and wait for someone who doesn't arrive -- it's a very tough feeling.
"Only those who have been through this can understand what I feel."
An immigrant from Guatemala, Brenda Martinez was a homemaker who loved to teach her children about Christ, Brenda's sister Liset Martinez said.
Brenda Martinez had been a member of Templo de Poder, an evangelical church on 47th Street in South Los Angeles, for 13 years. Since last September, she had often driven the 23-mile trip from Hacienda Heights after the church relocated to Los Angeles from El Monte.
She had just started singing in the church's choir and would go to church at least four times a week. She would bring her whole family along whenever possible, Martinez said.
"She loved going to church," said Wendy Estrada. "Everyone there was like a second family to her."
Three-year-old Brenda Estrada was a vivacious child who loved to play with her dog Fluffy and always looked forward to watching her favorite cartoons, Wendy Estrada said.
Both Sindy and Sussy graduated from Orange Grove Middle School in Hacienda Heights in June and were taking summer classes. They were close friends who liked to listen to hip-hop and R&B music.
"Sussy was always the athletic one and she loved to swim," Wendy said. "Sindy had a lot of plans for the future. She wanted to be a lawyer."