Blanca Madrigal misses the noise that came frequently and lasted for hours from a bedroom in her family’s Sacramento home – the sound of her sister dancing and singing at the top of her lungs to songs by Jenni Rivera and Selena.
Maricela Baza’s voice was silenced early Tuesday when the Honda Civic she was riding in ran into a parked truck near 21st Street and Florin Road, according to the Sacramento Police Department. She was 17. The driver, Hernando Villa Jr., 23, was arrested and booked on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license and vehicular manslaughter.
Now her close-knit family is mourning the loss of the gregarious girl with the stubborn streak known for impromptu trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s with her nieces and nephews and who dreamed of a law enforcement career because “she wanted to go after bad guys who disobeyed the law,” said her sister, Lupita Baza.
“She was so stubborn when it came to little arguments,” said Baza, 19, crying as she reflected on the countless playful arguments she had with her little sister. “She always wanted to be right.”
Maricela, called “Meni,” graduated from Calvine High School on May 30 – finishing her senior year with straight A’s, said Mary-Beth Wilson, who taught Maricela’s health class. When she started classes at Sacramento City College after graduation, she became the second in her family to go to college. The youngest of five children, Maricela joked that she would postpone marriage until she was 40, after watching her sisters struggle to balance school and motherhood, Madrigal said. For her 18th birthday next month, Maricela planned a trip to Hawaii or Miami.
“I feel so proud of her with what she had accomplished,” said Adolfo Baza, her father, who speaks primarily in Spanish. “God gave us the opportunity to see her get her diploma and graduate. She had a great future ahead, but as destiny would have it, she was taken away.”
Maricela always helped her mother, Lidia Sanchez, who is ill, with the daily household chores. On the day before her death, Maricela treated her mother to a meal at a restaurant.
Despite her youth, “She was always the one to take charge” around the house, Madrigal said.
Wilson mourns the fact that Maricela “won’t be able to carry out the destiny that she was going to fulfill.” But she remembers the teen as an “amazing student who always had a smile.”
“She was always looking after everybody if someone had a bad day,” Wilson said.
But Maricela was also a typical teen who enjoyed hanging out with friends on the weekends. And she sometimes joined in the underage drinking at house parties she attended, Madrigal said. The day of her death, Maricela, Villa and at least one other person were heading from one such party to the store to buy snacks, her family said.
She also had the tendency to forgo wearing a seat belt, Lupita Baza said, “because the strap would bother her.” And her family fears she was not using one at the time of the accident. Police, who are still investigating the incident, could not confirm whether Maricela wore a seat belt that night.
The family is waiting for relatives to arrive from Mexico before holding Maricela’s funeral.
“She put in hard work before she left, but now she’s gone,” Adolfo Baza said of his youngest child. “She was my baby.”