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Girl's death on freeway unites mourners and supporters

Funds are collected to help pay medical bills of a man who tried to save her.

September 03, 2011|By Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times
  • Leiana Ramirez was killed in last week's collision on the110 Freeway.
Leiana Ramirez was killed in last week's collision on the110 Freeway.

Friends and strangers came together this week to help the family of Leiana Ramirez, the 2-year-old who died last Friday in a fiery crash on the 110 Freeway near Highland Park.

The little girl was riding southbound with her mother, Samika Ramirez, just north of York Boulevard, when an SUV plowed into their Nissan Altima, causing it to burst into flames.

Neighbors, who have witnessed countless accidents along that curvy stretch of the roadway, raced to the scene and tried to help Ramirez rescue her daughter with buckets of water, garden hoses and fire extinguishers.

One resident, Salvador Martinez, burned his hands and cut his arms trying to pull Leiana out of the back of the car, where she was trapped in her car seat.

A fund was set up to pay for the hospital bills of Martinez, a construction manager who is out of work and uninsured. The rest will go to the Ramirez family. As of Friday evening, more than $2,000 had been raised.

"We just want people to know that what he did for this wonderful little girl was so selfless," said Cindy Nguyen, Ramirez's best friend.

She said Ramirez, 30, had taken that Friday off to spend it with her daughter, who was to turn 2 three days later. The two were headed to their home near Koreatown from Pasadena when the crash occurred. Leiana, precocious and always laughing, had just celebrated her pre-birthday party at her day-care center.

On Monday, the day of Leiana's birthday, Nguyen said Ramirez quietly visited the site of the crash, where neighbors who live just a few feet from the edge of the freeway set up a small shrine with candles, silk roses and plastic dolls. Leiana was her only child.

"She doted on her little girl. She loved to show her off at work," Nguyen said. "Everybody was so crushed when we found out what happened."

According the California Highway Patrol, Ramirez's car had stopped, possibly because of a flat tire.

The highway, known for its sharp twists, limited shoulder space and lack of warning lights, is dreaded by many drivers. It was described as "the most unsafe route in the region due to accidents" in a recent UCLA urban planning study that used California Department of Transportation data.

As for Martinez, he said on Friday that his first- and second-degree burns are healing and he's grateful for the support.

"It's humbling," said the father of five, including a 2-year-old girl. "I looked at the little girl as if she were mine. It didn't matter where she came from or who she came from. She needed help."

To learn more about the fund go to: http://goo.gl/fGF0X.

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

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