The boys in the crosswalk were small, the intersection wide, and the driver bearing down on them is suspected of being under the influence.
Two brothers, ages 6 and 8, were critically injured Friday morning in Citrus Heights as they walked to school, their bodies sent flying when they were struck by a car spinning out of control at Greenback Lane and Mariposa Avenue.
Police say a Chrysler 300 driven by Tresa Bales-Sterba collided with another car in the intersection, then spun into the children.
Bales-Sterba, 52, of Orangevale, was booked on a felony charge of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, with injury, and a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended or revoked license.
She was being held Friday in the Sacramento County jail in lieu of $60,000 bail.
The boys, identified by a San Juan Unified School District spokesman as Juan and Henry Perez-Rocha, were being treated at the UC Davis Medical Center. As of late Friday, Juan, the older brother, was in fair condition. Henry remained in critical condition, according to hospital officials.
Witnesses said the brothers were walking on Mariposa Avenue to Skycrest Elementary School a half-mile to the south, and that following behind them in the crosswalk was a woman who held a younger child by the hand.
Police declined to say whether the woman was the boys' mother, but Steve Allred, who witnessed the accident, said that was his impression.
Allred, an electrical contractor working nearby, said he heard a "bang" and looked up to see the Chrysler in a spin.
"I heard the (woman) instantly screaming," said Allred, 29. "I ran over with my crew."
Both boys were unconscious. The older boy was bleeding from the head and did not appear to be breathing.
"I took the boy into my arms," he said. "He was just like my son."
Allred said he opened the boy's airway, following instructions from a 911 operator via cellphone. The boy started vomiting. Allred said he stayed until paramedics arrived three minutes later.
The incident occurred just after 8 a.m. at what is described as a busy and dangerous intersection, where the speed limit is 40 mph but where drivers often top 50.
Bales-Sterba's Chrysler, westbound on Greenback, and a Chevy Suburban, headed south on Mariposa, appeared to sideswipe each other, authorities said. Police said initial reports indicate the two boys were in the crosswalk and had the right of way when they were struck.
Citrus Heights police spokesman Chad Morris said Bales-Sterba and the other driver stopped at the crash site. Police interviewed both, but Morris said Friday afternoon that investigators had not yet determined which driver had the right of way.
"There are conflicting statements," he said. "Both of them say they had the green light."
Bales-Sterba, who stood stiffly on a corner several hours after the crash talking with officers, was booked into county jail on suspicion of felony driving under the influence. "That is all she is being charged with (now), pending new details and the condition of the children," Morris said.
The other woman, who was not identified by police, declined comment when approached by a Bee reporter. She was questioned and released from the scene.
The incident sent shock waves through the community. Roger Stock, a spokesman for San Juan Unified School District, said the district sent a support team to Skycrest to assist.
Stock noted that the district had worked with the community to develop safe walking routes in the area a year ago. Following Friday's accident, Stock vowed to review the routes, but noted there's only so much the district can do.
"Unfortunately, these students were walking safely in a crosswalk and a driver ran a red light," he said. "They were doing everything right."
Mike Romani, a mechanic at Earth Station, an auto shop near the intersection, said there were so many people calling 911 that he couldn't get through.
"People were swarming the scene from every direction," he said.
The children were thrown at least 60 feet from the crosswalk, Romani said.
Sacramento-area safety officials say the region ranks high statewide for injuries and deaths in drug- and alcohol-related crashes. State data show more than 1,000 people were injured or killed in the county in 2010 by drivers under the influence.
Sacramento County also ranks high in pedestrian injuries and deaths. About 500 pedestrians were injured or killed in the county in 2010, 86 of them under age 15, according to state data.
Resident Darin Williams called the Greenback and Mariposa intersection dangerous, saying in the six months he's lived there, there have been at least five accidents.
"Cars run the lights all the time," Williams said. "If I'm driving, I'll wait a good 10 seconds after the light turns green. You've got to really pay attention."