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Fundraiser Aids Accident Victim's 5 Children

Residents wash cars and sell hot dogs near where a Pasadena woman was killed in an intersection.

September 13, 2004|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

A block from the Pasadena intersection where a mother died last month saving the life of her baby, strangers spent Sunday raising money for the struggling family she left behind.

Amilia Vargas, 37, was killed Aug. 14 while crossing at Orange Grove Boulevard and Garfield Avenue with her then 7-month-old son, Alexis, and 7-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, said Pasadena Police Traffic Lt. Eric Mills. Her death left five children motherless.

On Sunday, a large flashing sign and several lights in the street alerted drivers in the four lanes of traffic to the pedestrian crosswalk.

Vargas' eldest son, Luis, 18, passed the intersection where his mother was killed. The high school senior recalled going to the nearby park and local market with her and his siblings, a regular trip for the family. The memories hurt, he said, and being there gave him a feeling of "something in my heart ... like, it's not true."

The city will install a stoplight at the busy intersection in two weeks, said Pasadena Councilman Victor Gordo, who lobbied for it.

"Here we have five kids who have lost their mother," said Gordo, who along with members of the Pasadena Fire Department washed cars and sold hot dogs in a courtyard to raise money for the family. "They're not only coping with the loss, but like every other kid they're going back to school. They need school clothing. They need a sense of normalcy in their life."

Community members -- many moved by Vargas' story -- dropped by with donations ranging from $5 to more than $1,000. About $7,700 in cash was raised.

Vargas was pushing her baby in a stroller and Elizabeth was riding a scooter at her side when a sports utility vehicle barreled toward them, police said. Vargas shoved the stroller out of the path of the SUV before being hit by the vehicle, partially shielding her daughter from impact.

Vargas died at Huntington Memorial Hospital. Police arrested Shannon Maria Williams, 33, a block away from the accident site on suspicion of felony hit and run.

Since Vargas' death, her sister, Juana Ramos, and boyfriend, Jaime Garcia, have struggled to carry on her wishes for her children. Ramos, 43, took in four of the children, fathered by an ex-husband.

Now her nieces and nephews live with her and her own three children in a two-bedroom apartment in Panorama City, sleeping on couches and mattresses on the floor, she said.

Garcia, 24, quit his restaurant job to take care of Alexis. He said he can barely afford the $795 monthly rent in the Pasadena apartment they used to share. A few weeks ago, the utility company temporarily cut off his power.

The weeks since Vargas' death have been hard, and Garcia and Ramos said they were thankful for any help.

Garcia said he is grateful for the fundraiser because "I can't do it by myself. I can't take care of the baby and work at the same time."

Vargas "dedicated herself to raising her children," he said. "I have to move forward for the baby."

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