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Santa Rosa family shattered by deadly car crash in Mexico

Alexis Vargas.

PHOTO PROVIDED
Published: Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 9:04 p.m.

A Santa Rosa family was left shattered Sunday by a car crash in northeast Mexico that killed a 46-year-old woman and left her daughter and niece in critical condition.

As word of the accident filtered back to Sonoma County, grief spread fast.

“It feels like the neighborhood is empty without her,” said Alma Chavez, a neighbor who described a trail of visitors coming to pay respects at the family's home, where Rosa María Torres Garcia ran a popular day care called Happy Faces.

A Mexican online newspaper, La Policíaca, reported the family was traveling in Coahuila state when Torres Garcia's husband, Francisco Garcia, fell asleep at the wheel of their 2001 Chevrolet Tahoe.

The SUV, carrying seven people, rolled over on a highway, killing Torres Garcia instantly and leaving the couple's daughter, Cristina Garcia Torres, 16, and a niece, Alexis Vargas, 17, critically injured.

“Students are getting organized to help support them, and we're talking about how we can help the families,” said Brien Farrell, a government and economics teacher at Elsie Allen High School, where both girls are students.

La Policíaca said Garcia, 46, had been driving for about 18 hours without rest as the family headed south to his native state of Guanajuato, as they do every year, to spend the holidays with his and his wife's families.

Garcia, a construction worker, and his daughter's 7-month-old daughter, Maya, were less seriouly injured and have been discharged from hospital. Vargas's brother, Steven, was unhurt.

Marky Phanchanh, who has been close to the family since he was in kindergarten at Bellevue Elementary School, learned what happened from friends.

“I thought they were lying when they called me, then I just started crying,” said Phanchanh, a junior at Elsie Allen High.

He said Torres Garcia planned to buy a wedding dress because she and her husband were going to renew their vows.

The injuries suffered by Garcia Torres, 16, a junior at Elsie Allen, could not be confirmed Thursday. But she emerged from a coma Christmas Day, said a friend, Maria Baltazar.

“She's still paralyzed,” Baltazar said. “They put her back asleep every time she wakes up because the pain is so much.”

Garcia Torres and her brother, Daniel, who was in the SUV and suffered facial injuries, were transferred Wednesday to a Texas hospital, Baltazar said.

Vargas, 17, a senior at Elsie Allen, has undergone surgeries on her right eye and a leg crushed in the crash, her father said, speaking from his daughter's room at the Christus Muguerza Hospital in Saltillo.

“They were able to save my daughter's leg. And her eye. They have really, really good doctors here,” said Gabriel Vargas, a health promoter at Santa Rosa Memorial hospital.

His daughter remains hospitalized in Saltillo, Coahuila's capital city, because the family doesn't have insurance that would cover her transport to a U.S. hospital, Vargas said. He's trying to raise funds for a hospital bill that must be paid before his daughter will be discharged.

That is just one of many financial challenges that the Garcia and Vargas families now face, and friends are rallying to their side.

Calls for support have gone out on Facebook. Collection cans are in stores. Bank accounts have been set up for donations. The Elsie Allen cheerleading squads — the two girls were varsity cheerleaders — are sponsoring a bake sale at at noon today at the Lobos basketball game.

“The whole entire community is out to help,” said Amelia Khoupradit, a friend of Garcia Torres's family since middle school.

She described Torres Garcia as a woman who eagerly welcomed others into her fold.

“She made us feel as if we were theirs,” Khoupradit said.

She also was devoted to her day-care charges, creating a warm, loving environment.

“I would pick up Cristina every morning for school, and she would always open the door with her smile, making her pancakes for the kids,” Baltazar said of Torres Garcia.

Donations can be made to the Garcia Torres family at Chase Bank in the name of Guadalupe Garcia and to the Vargas family at Redwood Credit Union in the name of Gabriel Vargas.

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @jeremyhay.)

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