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Family Turns to Its Faith After Daughter's Prom-Night Death

May 28, 2003|Hilda Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Kristel Reyes was so excited about the prom that she bought her formal gold gown four months in advance.

"That Saturday afternoon all her friends were here doing her hair, taking pictures. They were so happy," her mother, Aurea Reyes, said during a telephone interview.

Still, her mother was worried. Temecula Valley High School, where Kristel was a senior, was holding its prom about 60 miles away in San Diego. Her parents offered to drive but Kristel, yearning for independence, said no. Before she left, the family prayed together.

The 18-year-old senior died early Sunday morning in a car accident on her way home from the prom when her boyfriend, Nicholas Stewart, allegedly fell asleep while driving, authorities said.

Kristel's family has turned to their faith as they deal with the tragedy, and also have expressed sympathy for their daughter's injured boyfriend.

"For me as a Christian, I am not angry because death is an appointed time from God," Aurea Reyes said. "I do not feel resentment at all with Nicholas because God is in control of everything."

Stewart, 17, told California Highway Patrol officers he fell asleep as he was heading north on Interstate 15, said Officer Tom Kerns, a CHP spokesman. The car veered off the road and hit a steel guardrail, he said.

The 1998 Toyota Avalon, a gift to Kristel from her parents, ended up on its roof on Gopher Canyon Road in northern San Diego County, Kerns said. Both driver and passenger were wearing seat belts, he said.

Kristel was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:39 a.m. Sunday, according to the San Diego medical examiner's office. Stewart is listed in fair condition at Palomar Medical Center in San Diego, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Reyes said nothing could have prevented the accident, but said the prom should have been closer to home. The event was held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego -- too far a drive for high school students on prom night, she said.

"I wanted me and my husband to take them and then pick them up," she said.

Mark Chavez, assistant principal at Temecula Valley High School, said there aren't any facilities capable of holding 1,100 students nearby.

Kristel, the oldest of four children, would have graduated in June and was considering a career in advertising or graphic design, her family said.

"She was always alive," said her 14-year-old sister, Micah. "She was always goofy and if you were sad she'd just do something to cheer you up."

Kimberly Downs, 17, a close friend, said Kristel's goofiness and personality made them compatible.

"That's how come we're best friends, cause we're goofy and we didn't care what anyone thought," she said. "We would kind of do things to make each other laugh, fall or trip."

Kristel had a brilliant smile that could light up a room, she said. "It was contagious," said Downs. "You couldn't help but smile because her smile was so big."

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