UC Davis couple hospitalized after fatal crash near Santa Nella

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Jun. 28, 2013 - 6:20 am

Two UC Davis graduate students described by friends as "fantastic parents" are in a Fresno hospital following a collision Friday on Interstate 5 near Santa Nella that left three people dead.

Husband and wife Fernando O. Mardones, 36, and Loreto A. Godoy, 32, had celebrated their graduation earlier this month and were traveling to Southern California with their children – two daughters who are 8 months and 4 years old – and Mardones' parents when they were involved in a head-on collision, according to a UC Davis news release.

The Fresno Bee reported that the family was southbound on I-5 at about 4:30 p.m. when a vehicle driven by a 29-year-old man crossed the median and collided with their car.

Mardones' parents, Fernando Mardones, 62, and Maria Loreto Loyola, 61, of Nunoa, Santiago, Chile, died while sitting in the front of the car. The driver and sole occupant of the other vehicle also died.

Michael Lairmore, dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said in an email to the veterinary school community Monday that Godoy is not expected to live.

Mardones underwent surgery for leg and ankle fractures, and the couple's daughters were injured but expected to recover, he said. The baby was released from the hospital Saturday night and is staying with family friends, he added.

Friends, faculty and the Chilean community have launched an online effort to raise funds to help cover medical and funeral expenses. As of Tuesday night, they had raised more than $83,400. Donations may be made online at http://www.gofundme.com/3czto4.

"They both are pretty well known in the Chilean community here," said Ale Aleuy, a friend and UC Davis graduate student who started the fundraiser. He added, "We have spent holidays together."

Aleuy said he went to the hospital to see the family, but Mardones had too much pain to greet visitors.

Mardones and Godoy received master's degrees in preventive veterinary medicine from UC Davis in 2007 and 2009, respectively, according to the UC Davis news release. Aleuy enrolled in the same program after contacting Godoy, he said.

"Fernando gave me a hug in his oral exam," said Janet Foley, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, and Mardones' mentor. "They're so sweet, and they're such fantastic parents."

In his doctoral work at the veterinary school, Mardones studied epidemiology and infectious disease. He served as president of the Epidemiology Graduate Students Group, according to the news release.

Godoy studied conservation ecology for her doctorate under Holly Ernest, an associate professor in residence at the veterinary school.

"Loreto is the most amazing person," Ernest said in a statement. "She is brilliant and scientifically creative, but on top of that she is the brightest ray of sunshine.

"She is always helping other students, and when we have been banding hummingbirds, all of the volunteers just love her. I don't often use the word 'angel,' but Loreto is one of the few people that it truly fits."

Call The Bee's Jeffrey Dastin, (916) 321-1037.

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