One victim was a 76-year-old man who recently reconnected with his high school sweetheart. Three of the casualties were young brothers traveling in the same car on a sunny Saturday afternoon when they were hit head-on, allegedly by a drunken driver using a suspended driver’s license. Another was a promising high school freshman with a passion for dance.
All were among the nine victims of tragic car crashes on highways in the region over the last nine days that have left families and friends grief-stricken from Yuba City to Stockton to the Philippines.
“I keep seeing it on my news feed, and people don’t get the message,” said Alexis Flores, 19, the sister-in-law of one of the three brothers killed Saturday near Yuba City. “This isn’t a game. We’re losing innocent people with family and kids.”
The Yuba City incident is the latest in a series of dramatic crashes. It occurred on State Route 113 at about 3:45 p.m. Saturday. The California Highway Patrol said Michael Allan Jones, 38, was driving a 2007 Ford pickup when he veered across the highway and crashed into a 1991 Honda Accord. It burst into flames and killed three brothers riding inside.
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“We have a pretty good idea who these people are; however, we don’t have a positive (identification) yet because of the fire,” CHP Officer Dan Yeager said Monday.
Postings on social networks and a family member identified the three as Carlos Blanco, 21; Antonio Blanco, 19; and Lucas Blanco, 15.
Carlos Blanco had a year-old daughter, Flores said, while Antonio Blanco had a year-old son and a wife – Flores’ older sister –who is due to give birth next month. The baby shower had been scheduled for Sunday, Flores said.
The victims were three of four brothers, and the family is devastated, Flores said.
“It’s a tragedy; we’re just trying to get over it,” she said.
Jones, the driver of the pickup truck, suffered major injuries and was still hospitalized, but is expected to face DUI and manslaughter charges, the CHP said. California Department of Motor Vehicle records state that Jones was driving on a license that was suspended or revoked on March 26 because of “excessive blood alcohol” content.
Details about that case were not available, but records state that he also had a May 2014 citation for tailgating and a March 2014 accident in Stockton.
About 13 hours before that crash, 21-year-old Jesus D. Castillo of Sacramento died in another suspected DUI. The CHP said Castillo died when a truck he was riding in crashed into a parked vehicle along southbound Interstate 5 near Fruitridge Road. The driver of that vehicle, Nicholas Lloyd Balestra, 21, remained in the Sacramento County jail Monday facing four felony counts, including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit and run with death or injury.
The Saturday crashes came days after a horrific wrong-way driver accident on Highway 50 that left four dead, including three older men who were returning to Stockton. The Sacramento County Coroner’s Office has yet to say whether the young woman who caused that crash was intoxicated.
“He was a good man; he was a really good man,” Grace Bacareza said Monday of her husband, Nick, 74. “I don’t know what to say. I’m really not in the condition to talk about him right now.”
Nick Bacareza was one of four people killed around 2:30 a.m Wednesday on Highway 50 near Stockton Boulevard. Elizabet Torres-Zela, 19, has been identified as the driver of a Prius that was headed the wrong direction on the highway that morning. CHP officers rushed to intercept her but were too late. She collided with the pickup truck carrying Bacareza and two close friends, who were apparently returning to Stockton from a casino. The truck hit another car and then burst into flames.
Torres-Zela died in the crash, as did all the occupants of the pickup. Besides Bacareza, they were Pepito Rivera, 81, and Tony Kilayko. All three lived in Stockton, although Kilayko was hoping to move to the Philippines soon to marry Ditas Navarro, 74, a neighbor he had dated after high school, said Navarro’s brother-in-law, Jim Sanders of Sacramento.
“They dated for a while and drifted apart, and each married someone else,” Sanders said. Kilayko divorced and Navarro’s husband died, and eventually the two reconnected.
“Love blossomed, and she was like a teenager,” said Sanders, a former Sacramento Bee reporter who is communications director for the Natomas Unified School District. “She is really in love with him, and they wanted to marry.”
Sanders’ wife, Betty, Navarro’s younger sister, said Kilayko was a tax preparer who traveled between the Philippines and Stockton and was waiting for a Catholic Church annulment of his original marriage to allow the couple to be married in the church.
“At some point Tony and Ditas reconnected, and I guess they fell in love again,” Betty Sanders said. “And Tony asked her to marry him, but my sister asked him to ask the church for an annulment.”
Jim Sanders described Kilayko as “a terrific guy, a really nice guy,” adding that he accompanied his friends to casinos while they gambled and he relaxed from his business duties.
The night of the accident, he said, Kilayko spoke with Navarro. “He had called Ditas and said that he was going home and he would call when he got to Stockton,” Sanders said. “But he never got to Stockton.”
Now, Navarro is hoping to get permission from the U.S. government for an emergency visa approval that will allow her to attend Kilayko’s May 5 funeral, Sanders said. “She’s made calls to try to get an expedited appointment with the Embassy,” Sanders said. “The problem as we research it is he’s not immediate family.”
Permission for such travel can be obtained in some cases in a process called “humanitarian parole,” according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Humanitarian parole is used sparingly to bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency,” the agency said.
All of these crashes came after one on April 19, when Haylie Elizabeth Jordan, 15, a freshman at El Camino Fundamental High School, died in a chain-collision crash on the Capital City Freeway near the H Street exit.
Jordan, whose obituary in The Bee listed her parents, siblings and “her kitten Keia” among her survivors, was killed after a big rig on the freeway began braking for traffic and the car Jordan was in behind the truck also began to slow down. The CHP said a pickup truck driving behind Jordan’s vehicle was traveling at an unsafe speed and crashed into the car she was in, pushing it into the big rig.
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.