Surrounded by candles, wedding photos and grieving relatives, Anahi Corona-Tovar sobbed in her Antelope apartment Thursday and described how she learned her world had been upended.
“I was watching the 11 a.m. Spanish news on TV when I heard there had been a car crash, and then I realized it was them,” she said.
Corona-Tovar’s daughter Anahi, 14, and her husband, Jose Luis Barriga-Tovar, 35, were killed in an early morning car crash on Wednesday, as the father drove the daughter to the home of a friend who routinely took the bus with her to school. Barriga-Tovar was trying to turn left onto Antelope North Road in his small white Kia when an F-150 pickup allegedly stolen by twin brothers barreled into them during a high-speed chase with police.
“They didn’t do anything wrong; they were driving the way they were supposed to. They turned on the green light, when the truck came, hit them at over 100 miles an hour,” Corona-Tovar said. “My daughter was a great girl, great daughter, great student – always happy – and everybody loved her. My husband was an amazing man, father and husband, and they killed them. How am I supposed to survive without my husband and my daughter?”
“I want the people whose fault this is to pay for our damages,” she said. Corona-Tovar has two remaining children, Andrea, 9, and Alvin, who is 6 months.
She said she has hired Sacramento personal-injury lawyer Omar Gonzalez, who on Thursday suggested that the Placer County Sheriff’s Department could be at fault for pursuing brothers Roman and Ruslan Glukhoy, both 19, through commute traffic from Auburn to Antelope. “Although it may appear that the two individuals are the only responsible parties, our investigation may reveal others as well,” said Gonzalez, who specializes in wrongful-death and personal-injury claims. He noted he has successfully sued public agencies in the past, and said any payoff would be “substantial.”
“The family’s been destroyed; there aren’t any winners here,” he said.
Dena Erwin, spokeswoman for the Placer County sheriff, declined to comment on Gonzalez’s remarks.
Wednesday morning’s tragedy unfolded during the family’s daily routine, Corona-Tovar said. Every school morning, Jose Luis Barriga-Tovar would leave early for work and drop Anahi at the Roseville home of one of her best friends, Destini Vassar. It was a ritual the girls loved. They would have breakfast and walk to the school bus stop together.
On Wednesday, Anahi didn’t show up, and Destini sent anxious texts wondering where she was.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Destini said Thursday, breaking into tears.
At Cooley Middle School, staff was planning for a memorial vigil for sometime today. About 20 health professionals, including grief counselors and psychologists, were on campus to help students through the shock of losing Anahi, a popular, vivacious girl who recently had competed in a swing dance competition at school with her boyfriend. She also loved rap and hip hop.
Many of the students shared the news through Twitter or texting Wednesday night. The reality set in as they returned to school Thursday morning. Kids came into the office, crying, asking to go home. One had marked her arm in red, writing Anahi’s name and drawing a heart.
“They’re very sad,” said Principal Karen Calkins, who noted that teachers discussed the tragedy with their students Thursday morning. “School is what they shared with Anahi. We’re helping them get through this.”
Anahi, who was due to graduate from the middle school in June, excelled in her science class, one of her favorite subjects. “She was just so kind to everyone, willing to help anyone out,” said her science teacher, Jessica Connors, who knew her for three years. “She was a great student, extremely positive and her smile and laugh were contagious.”
With posted photos, heartfelt dispatches and an economy of words, students and friends told the story on Twitter of the young girl.
“I’ll bet heaven is beautiful with you,” one friend offered, tweeting a picture that showed a smiling Anahi, with her long brown hair, bright dark eyes and pink fleece jacket.
On Friday afternoon, Roman Glukhoy is scheduled to be arraigned in the Placer County jail courtroom on charges that include two counts of homicide. His twin brother, Ruslan, faces the same charges, though his arraignment has not yet been scheduled. His booking was delayed overnight while he received treatment for minor injuries from the crash and a bite from a police dog.
A third suspect, Yuriy Merkushev, 21, is due to be arraigned on charges of resisting arrest and possession of stolen property. Merkushev’s bail is set at $15,000. The Glukhoy brothers have been denied bail.
Authorities say the events leading to the crash began when the brothers, former Mira Loma High School wrestling stars from Antelope, committed an early morning burglary in Auburn. Police said the teens fled in their BMW, endangering officers and houses as they sped away.
After ditching the BMW and leaving Merkushev behind, authorities said, they stole the pickup truck and roared back onto Interstate 80, reaching speeds of 100 mph while being pursued by police. The Glukhoys sped off the freeway at Antelope Road, raced out of sight of deputies and slammed into the white Kia, ending the lives of the father and daughter, authorities said.
Anahi and her family came to the Sacramento area about 13 years ago from Uruapan, in the Mexican state of Michoacán, her mother said. Jose Luis Barriga-Tovar landed a job making cabinets in Rancho Cordova, and brought his wife and young daughter Anahi several months later, she said.
Anahi dreamed of becoming a cheerleader and was already lobbying her father for a quinceañera – a rite of passage for Mexican girls – even though it was nearly a year away, Corona-Tovar said.
Barriga-Tovar “wanted to work hard to get a home for us, and for our three children to study, go to college and have a career,” his widow said. “He liked the Toucanes, a Mexican band, and his favorite soap opera was ‘La Viuda Negra’ – ‘The Black Widow.’ ”
A parade of relatives showed up at the family’s Antelope apartment Thursday with Kentucky Fried Chicken, soft drinks and other provisions. “They were the best,” said Anahi’s cousin, Erick Alvarez. “He was a hardworking parent, and she was a loving teenager.”
Carlos González Gutiérrez, the Mexican consul general in Sacramento, called the accident “devastating.” He said Barriga-Tovar had gone 14 years without seeing his parents, and the consulate was trying to get his parents humanitarian visas to attend their son’s funeral.
Those wishing to donate money to help the family with funeral and living expenses can contribute to Wells Fargo account #1104261837.
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.