A 79-year-old great-grandfather traveling from Mexico to visit family in Merced was among those killed Thursday in the Highway 99 crash involving a passenger bus and two vehicles.
The grandfather, Tomas Ponce, died from heart complications, said his granddaughter Yuridia Hampton.
Ponce's wife, Sinforosa Arreola, 77, was critically injured in the accident, with fractures in both arms, both legs and broken ribs, family members said. Arreola had surgery late Thursday to remove blood that had collected in her lungs.
Also on the bus was Hampton's great-uncle, Adolfo Ponce, who broke a leg and wrist, she said.
Never miss a local story.
He underwent surgery for his injuries Thursday night.
Community Regional Medical Center trauma surgeon Dr. John Bilello said Tomas Ponce died "despite our best efforts" to save him.
Hampton said Tomas Ponce grew up in Mexico, where he grew corn on land he owned.
He was the father of five girls and three boys. Four of them live in Mexico and four in the United States. He had 27 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
During summers, Ponce and Arreola often traveled by bus to Merced and would stay with family in nearby Winton for about four months.
"They don't like to fly; they always thought the bus was safer," said one of the Ponce's grandchildren, Vannesa Bustillos, as she sat in the emergency room lobby at Community Regional Medical Center. "They were too scared to fly because of all the accidents."
Bustillos and her cousin Cris Ambriz said they never imagined something like this happening. "This was so routine," Ambriz said.
"You don't even second-guess if it's safe."
Bustillos said Ponce was a quiet man who, despite his age, did a lot of manual labor, like mowing the lawn. He stayed close to his family.
"He and Grandma did everything together," Bustillos said.
"They would walk for a mile every day, go to the store together. I don't know what my grandma will do now."
She said eight of Ponce's relatives were at the hospital Thursday morning. Her mother was "devastated" by Ponce's death, she said.
"She is just crying and crying and crying," Bustillos said.
Ambriz said he's still in shock.
"I heard about it on the news this morning and was hoping it wasn't their bus," Ambriz said. "It was chilling to watch it -- the whole bus was distorted. When I heard it was coming from L.A. and heading to Merced, I knew it was their bus."
Bustillos said her family is still struggling to cope with their grandfather's death.
"We've never had anyone close to us die," she said. "It hasn't really hit us."
Arreola will likely remain hospitalized for a while. Hampton said she and other family members have had a chance to visit Arreola, whose arms and legs are in casts. No one had told her yet late Thursday morning that her husband was dead, but she seemed to know.
"She's speculating that Grandpa has died because of our reactions when we saw her," Hampton said. "She's asked us about him, but nobody's really told her anything yet."