Twenty-three year-old Concepcion Lopez of Chowchilla is trying to hold on and make sense of the accident that sent her to a Fresno Hospital and claimed the lives of her husband, brother-in-law, brother and cousin early Monday morning.
Lopez, along with four members of her family were on their way to work at around 5:10 a.m. on Lassen Avenue near Five Points. Hernesto Escalante, 35, of Modesto, was driving a Freightliner Truck Tractor pulling two trailers filled with tomatoes eastbound on Oakland Avenue approaching Lassen Avenue.
Jose Menjivar, 25, was driving the family in a 1990 Honda. He was travelling south on Lassen Avenue, approaching Oakland Avenue.
Escalante, driving the truck, failed to stop for the posted stop sign and proceeded into the intersection directly into the path of the Honda, according to a California Highway Patrol report. The Honda collided with the left side of one of the trailers.
All four of the males, Jose Menjivar, Wilfredo Menjivar, Angel Nunez, and Nelson Nunez, were pronounced dead at the scene. Lopez was airlifted to a Fresno hospital where she was treated for minor injuries. She was released the next day.
The CHP reported that Escalante fled the scene after the collision. A follow-up investigation led officers to Modesto where Escalante was taken into custody and charged with one count of felony hit-and-run and four counts of vehicular manslaughter.
Lopez explained she and her family left for work early that morning and for the first time took a new route, thinking it might save them some time.
Lopez was sleeping when the accident happened. When she opened her eyes she was horrified and tried to get her seat belt off. She remembers a woman at the scene. "She said, 'I'm sorry, the man left,'" Lopez said of the truck driver.
Now she is home, surrounded by family and friends. Grief-stricken and confused, she's trying to take one day at a time, hour by hour, making the necessary arrangements for her loved ones. Her daughter will start first grade in less than a week, without her father. Lopez said every night she asks where her daddy is and when is he coming home.
Neighbors of the family living in the 500 block of Trinity Avenue in Chowchilla gathered outside their homes Monday morning waiting for news.
Laura Riemenschneider, who lives next door, said they were good neighbors, quiet and never caused any trouble. "In fact, one time they brought me a case of cantaloupe," she recalled.
Lopez doesn't know how she survived. "I know God left me to take care of my children," she said. "I know I have to stay strong for my children."
The family said it is moved by the outpouring of support and help from the community. They're trying to make funeral arrangements and hope to send their loved one back to El Salvador for burial.
A bank account has been set up at the Chowchilla Bank of America. The account number is 08757-66742 under the name of Medardo Nunez, who is a relative. The family could also use food and other supplies.
Patty Mandrell can be reached at (559) 666-5751.