Last Thanksgiving, Lorraine Anderson was talking about plans to spend the holiday with her son, a combat soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan. This year, the 57-year-old spent the Monday before Thanksgiving making funeral arrangements for him and his twin brother.
Anderson’s sons, Robert and Michael, were among three people killed in a solo vehicle crash in the Sacramento area on Saturday, just three days shy of their 24th birthday.
The crash was reported about 2:30 a.m. on southbound Highway 99, south of Calvine Road. Merced resident Sean Leon-Guerrero, 24, was driving a 2010 Acura that belonged to Robert Anderson, and the two Anderson brothers were passengers.
According to the CHP, Leon-Guerrero lost control of the car, which drifted to the right of the highway and onto the dirt shoulder, then struck a chain-link fence and a metal pole. CHP reported the vehicle was traveling between 80 and 100 mph, and they suspect that alcohol was a factor.
All three men were pronounced dead at the scene.
“When the sheriff told me, the car was registered to Robert but the driver was Sean,” said Lorraine Anderson. “They may have perceived that Sean was less drunk than them.”
While making decisions about her sons’ final resting place, Lorraine Anderson also took a moment Monday to pray for the family of Leon-Guerrero, a childhood friend of the Anderson brothers. “I recognize that I’m not the only one that’s mourning, and I can be an encouragement to others,” she said.
Michael Anderson had driven up to Sacramento last Thursday from his Atwater home to spend some time with his twin, who was working as a recruiter at the Armed Services Recruiting Station on Florin Road, their mother said.
Robert, an Elk Grove resident, was a sergeant in the Marines who served two tours in Afghanistan. Michael was a specialist in the Army National Guard who returned from Afghanistan in July.
The twins were born at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, where their mother was serving as a supply sergeant with the U.S. Air Force. Their father, Willie Anderson, was a staff sergeant with the Marines. After graduating from Merced Union High School in 2007, the twins went to Fresno City College for a short time before they decided to go into military service in 2008.
Michael, who is older than Robert by a few minutes, decided to join the Army National Guard, while Robert decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and joined the Marines after marrying his high school sweetheart, Ashley.
Robert was first to be deployed, serving his first tour in Afghanistan in 2011 and his second in 2012. After his last overseas stint, he became a recruiter, working at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Sacramento starting in June 2013.
Lorraine said Robert had asked for that particular assignment so he could be close to his family.
“That was important to her, and it seemed to work for them,” she said.
Robert’s first child, Carter, was born the year he enlisted. Earlier this month, his second son, Max, was born.
Michael served as a door gunner on a Chinook helicopter when his unit deployed to Afghanistan in August 2012. They finished their tour in July.
“He was one of the best soldiers I ever served with,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan O’Gaffney. “He was the go-to man for everything. If I ask him to do something, he didn’t stop until it was done to the best of his ability. He was what every soldier should strive to be like. He was a role model.”
After Michael returned, he worked part time as an avionics technician at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Stockton.
Anderson was mourning her sons Monday afternoon when she received a visit from a team of Army soldiers. The men had traveled to her Merced home to show support, get information about the family’s wishes for funeral arrangements and facilitate life insurance payments.
The brothers will receive full military honors at their funerals, O’Gaffney said.
Sean’s mother, Patricia Leon-Guerrero, said Monday she’s praying for Anderson’s family. She wished the men had made a better choice, but said her son shouldn’t be blamed solely because he was driving.
“I know they’ll put the blame on him because he was behind the wheel,” Leon-Guerrero, 44, said Monday. “But he is not this drunk or alcoholic people are putting him out to be. I don’t know why they made the decisions they did.”
“We’ll never know why they handed him keys to a car that was not his or why the boys decided to get in a car together if they were drinking,” she added, “but they went together and God took them together.”