HOLLYWOOD (CBSLA.com) — A candlelight vigil was held in Hollywood Sunday night in the memory of a mom and her two young daughters killed last week by a wrong-way driver.
Amanda Burden, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, said the vigil was supposed to last just one hour. But more than three hours later, family and friends were still hugging each other, praying, singing hymns, crying and trying to come to grips with their loss. “It is complete devastation at this crash site,” she reported.
Mom Saida Juana Mendez-Bernardino, 27, of Los Angeles and her daughters, Stephanie Cruz, 4, and Hilda Cruz, 6, were all killed in the accident.
Burden spoke to Hilario Cruz, the victim’s husband and father of the girls. “This is very tragic for me,” he said. “I lost my whole family. They were my whole world, my whole heart.”
Speaking about his wife, he said, “She was a very lovely person. And my two daughters? What can I say? They were … they were special.”
Police said the accused wrong-way driver, Solomon Mathenge, 74, of Lawndale was driving an Infiniti north on Highland Avenue across Willoughby Avenue Wednesday morning. Authorities said he suddenly veered to the wrong side of the road into on-coming traffic. He slammed into the deceased’s Dodge Caravan. The minivan then crashed into a light pole.
The mother and one child died at the scene, another child died at the hospital.
Authorities say Mathenge was not only driving on a suspended license, but they told Cruz, “he was texting.”
Mathenge remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Police continue to investigate the crash. Mathenge had been cited previously for speeding and talking on a cell phone while driving.
Mendez-Bernadino’s husband wants Mathenge to live and spend a long time in jail. He knows his loved ones are going to Heaven. “They are with God,” he said.
Cruz told Burden he hasn’t been able to go home since he got the tragic news Wednesday. It would be too painful, he told her.