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Train hits car carrying five people in Pajaro; passenger dies on impact

Modified: Monday, Jan 28th, 2013

A CHP officer gathers evidence Sunday evening in Pajaro where a train hit a car, killing one. (Photo by Tom Dunlap/Register-Pajaronian)

PAJARO — A Pajaro woman died Sunday when a Union Pacific freight train struck the Honda Civic she was riding in just off of San Juan Road.

The car was also carrying another woman — the driver — and three children. The impact killed Maria Lopez Vasquez, 45, the front seat passenger. The four others were taken to hospitals with minor to moderate injuries.

A small crowd, including relatives of Lopez Vasquez, gathered near the train tracks Sunday evening as the California Highway Patrol and the coroner worked on the car and gathered evidence. The crumpled white Civic was stuck under the train for several hours after the crash.

CHP Sgt. Carl Churchfield said the train had been traveling westbound east of Allison Road, about a quarter mile from San Juan Road, about 4 p.m., going about 25 to 35 mph. He said that the train’s engineer told him that he sounded the horn well before the intersection. The driver of the car either stopped or stalled at the intersection, and then tried to reverse it, he said.

“But it was too late,” Churchfield said. The passenger was killed on impact, he said.

Mariela Onofre said she was cooking in her mobile home when the accident occurred. Standing in the crowd near the tracks Sunday evening, she was translating for the distraught daughter of the woman killed in the car. With so many people in the car, “I’m so surprised it was only her,” Onofre said.

She said the owner of the mobile home park said there had been accidents before at that train intersection, but not as bad.

Churchfield also said it was “amazing” that only one person died in the accident.

The children in the car ranged in age from 2 to 13. They were all taken to Watsonville Community Hospital. The driver, 27, was flown out to Valley Medical Center. The family lived in the mobile home park near the crash site.

None of the crew members onboard the train, two 60 year olds and one 44 year old, were injured, according to CHP Public Information Officer Robert Lehman

It’s not believed that alcohol or drugs played a role in the collision, which remains under investigation, Lehman stated.

On Monday, family members gathered at the mobile home where Lopez Vasquez lived, about 75 yards from the railroad tracks.

“My grandmother was such a nice lady,” said Erica Juarez, a senior at Watsonville High School. “She has lived at the mobile for the last six years. She was the mother of five girls and one boy. She loved to cook and she was always cooking for people, because that is what made her happy.”

Juarez said her grandmother was born in San Martin Peras, which is in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

“She was always smiling,” Juarez said. “She was so happy to be able to work in the strawberry fields in this area and she was looking forward to working today.”

Lopez Vasquez’s daughter, Laura Flores, 17, also a Watsonville High student, said her family is making arrangements to have her body sent back to San Martin Peras.

“We’re trying to find the money to have her sent there,” Flores said. “It’s really hard for my family now. I ran out there when I heard the crash. The men from the train acted like they didn’t care — they were just taking photos and acting like nothing big happened.”

Flores said her mother was home cooking yesterday right before the crash.

“She made the best mole,” she said “Everybody loved her cooking. My mother was touching my hair and she was teasing me about playing a video game, saying I was still a little girl. Then she said goodbye and there was the crash. I can still see her standing in our kitchen cooking her mole.”

For the complete article see the 01-27-2013 issue.

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