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Victims identified in crash on Interstate 5 in Mission Viejo

A San Pedro family of four and a niece were heading to Legoland when their sport utility vehicle suddenly veered across the freeway, rolled down an embankment and caught fire.

August 06, 2009|Paloma Esquivel and My-Thuan Tran

Juan Antonio and Belinda Sandoval loved taking trips with their young daughters. With both off work for the day, the pair, their two girls and a niece packed into a sport utility vehicle Tuesday and headed from their home in San Pedro to Legoland in Carlsbad.

About halfway to their destination, as they headed south on Interstate 5 in Mission Viejo, the vehicle veered across the freeway, rolled down an embankment and caught fire.

Juan Antonio, known as "Tony" to friends and family, 37; Belinda, 33; their two daughters -- Nayelli, 11, and Natalie, 4 -- and Belinda's 5-year-old niece Andrea Flores were killed in the crash, relatives confirmed Wednesday. The victims' names have not been released by the Orange County coroner's office.

"It's still a shock to us," said Tony's sister Leticia Sandoval. "We still can't believe it."

On Wednesday, the California Highway Patrol continued piecing together how the accident happened.

Initial witness accounts indicated that one of the SUV's tires blew out and the driver lost control. But the investigation could take a few months to complete while officials conduct tests and interview witnesses to try to determine factors -- such as possible mechanical failure, driver distraction or others -- that might have caused the crash.

Meanwhile, the Sandovals' friends and family gathered to mourn and remember.

Tony's family lives in Long Beach. Belinda came with her family to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, when she was a teenager. She and Tony met while working at Burger King and were married in 1997 in a Long Beach ceremony, said Pedro Leon, Belinda's brother.

Both came from large families -- he had four brothers and sisters; she had seven sisters and a brother -- and were close to their extended families. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins frequently came together for birthdays and holidays, a family friend said.

Leticia Sandoval said the last time the family got together was when Tony and Natalie had a joint birthday bash over the 4th of July weekend. Father and daughter were born just one day apart, she said, and members of both Tony's and Belinda's families attended the barbecue in the park. The family, Leticia Sandoval said, was gearing up to celebrate Nayelli's 12th birthday next month.

A couple of years ago, the family settled into a home in San Pedro. It is a small, white stucco house on a corner, with a white picket fence on one side. Belinda's parents live just blocks away and, on Monday, Leon said, when Belinda came to pick up her daughters, she offered to take their father to the bank. Leon said no need, he would do it. He gave her a hug and she left, Leon said.

"I didn't know it was going to be the last time," he said.

On Wednesday, Leon headed to the Sandoval house, trying to find information to help coroner's officials identify the family. The home was locked and he made plans to return later.

The girls' toys were still scattered in the yard -- a turquoise and purple bike, a small tricycle, a lavender Barbie jeep, and an easel on which a smiling cloud was drawn.

In memoriam, someone had placed five candles and a dozen white roses on the walkway leading to the home.

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

my-thuan.tran@latimes.com

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