PATTERSON — The Andersons were on their way out of town to dinner Tuesday evening to celebrate their eldest son's birthday and his visit from law school in Wisconsin, family friends said Wednesday.
They headed east on Las Palmas Avenue, but their sport utility vehicle didn't get more than a mile out of town.
A white van ran a stop sign on Elm Avenue and struck the SUV's passenger side, causing the vehicle to crash into a large palm tree, authorities said.
Three members of the Anderson family are dead and the fourth member, who survived, is paralyzed from the neck down, family friends from Patterson said.
James Donald Anderson, 49, Emma Gabriela Anderson, 44, and Andrew David Anderson, 15, were pronounced dead at the scene, according to Stanislaus County coroner officials.
The van's driver, James Edward Rowell, 40, of Patterson, also was pronounced dead at the scene, coroner officials said. Attempts to reach Rowell's family Wednesday were not successful.
James "Jimmy" Anderson, 24, the law student, was the fourth person in the SUV and suffered major injuries, the California Highway Patrol reported. He was taken by air ambulance to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, but hospital officials did not have any information about his condition Wednesday.
He was paralyzed from the neck down, said family friend Greg Damas. Damas has known the family for more than a year, meeting them through Patterson Redskins Youth Football.
James Donald Anderson was an assistant varsity coach with the youth league, which has about 160 football players and cheerleaders ages 5 to 15. He also worked as a truck driver.
"(James Donald Anderson) was the type of person who would go out of his way for you," said Damas, 38. "They were a very happy family. It's just awful what happened."
Katie Wisbar, 37, has known the Andersons for about seven years. Her children and the Anderson kids were close friends from school and played youth football together.
"They were a very loving family," Wisbar said, fighting back tears. "They did everything for anybody."
She said the Andersons' youngest son, Andrew, was a sophomore and an honor student at Patterson High School. His planned path was to go to college just like his older brother, who graduated from Patterson High.
"Andrew always had a huge smile on his face," Wisbar said. "He was a straight-A student."
Cory Olmos, 45, knew the Andersons for about 13 years. She said the Andersons were great parents, working hard to give their two sons a good future.
"They lived for their sons," Olmos said. "They sacrificed everything to make sure their son went to the best schools."
A small bouquet of red flowers was left at Elm and East Las Palmas, not far from where the Andersons' SUV crashed into the tree.
Investigators are awaiting toxicology reports to determine whether alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash. However, there was nothing at the crash site to indicate either driver was under the influence, said officer John Martinez, a CHP spokesman.
The crash occurred about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday. Rowell was driving a white 1993 Chevrolet van north on Elm, and he had no passengers.
James Donald Anderson was driving a green 1998 Ford SUV east on Las Palmas. His wife and two sons were passengers in the SUV.
The intersection has a stop sign for traffic on Elm, but there is no stop sign for traffic on Las Palmas. There is also a yellow sign warning drivers on Elm that traffic does not stop on Las Palmas.
But the van did not yield for the stop sign and struck the SUV's passenger side, according to the CHP. The force of the impact caused both vehicles to spin out of control in a northeasterly direction.
The SUV hit a large palm tree on the intersection's northeast corner before overturning onto its driver's side. CHP officer Chuck Leon said the impact caused the tree to pierce the SUV's cab.
The van came to rest on the north side of Las Palmas. The CHP said the five people in the crash were all wearing seat belts.
The CHP's crash investigation team was at the scene late Tuesday. Martinez said Wednesday that investigators had not determined the speeds of the vehicles.
Investigators ask anyone who witnessed this crash to call the Modesto-area CHP office at 545-7440.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.