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DOWNEY - Eight-year old Richard Reyes, a 3rd grader at Lewis Elementary School, is the only survivor of a Labor Day single-car accident that claimed the lives of his two sisters Angelina, 7, and Amanda, 3, as well as younger brother Erick, 4.
The accident happened at about 8 a.m. as Jessica, the children's 27-year old mother, exited the 710 Freeway onto Imperial Highway on their way home from a cousin's house. In trying to switch lanes, Jessica somehow lost control of the vehicle, which flipped over "two or three times," then hit a tree with such impact as to cause it to topple over onto the car.
The tree crumpled mainly the back passenger portion of the vehicle, where Angelina, Erick and Amanda sat (making the fact that all five passengers had their seat belts on academic), crushing the three siblings. Angelina and Amanda were killed instantly, while Erick was rushed to the Miller Children's Hospital where at first doctors detected that a little part of Erik's brain was "functioning" as an eye responded to stimuli; a second test early the following week determined he was "brain-dead." His organs were donated.
A newscast of the accident was aired by at least Channel 4 News.
Seated in front, Richard emerged from the accident practically unscathed. Jessica, the mother, suffered "chest pains causing difficulty in breathing, seven broken ribs, some spleen (kidney, liver) damage, brain hemorrhage, and perhaps a fracture in the spinal column"; she was detained by police and is being attended to in a hospital.
Lewis principal Robin Martin says Richard, who has been seen by a psychiatrist and can expect counseling from the school psychologist, returned to school last Monday and seems to be coping with the "passing away of his siblings as well as can be expected under the circumstances."
Because Richard's dad is in jail and his mom is expected to spend extended time in a hospital, Richard has been temporarily placed in foster care. At any rate, an aunt (their dad's sister) has always been Richard's and his siblings' caregiver since they were babies. A custody hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4, which is Richard's ninth birthday. It is expected that the aunt (who requested that her name not be published) will be granted custody of Richard.
She could not hold back her sobs as her pain found expression: "I miss Angelina a lot. She was so sweet, so friendly. She had a heart. And Amanda, she'd wake me up in the morning by opening my eyelids...I miss them so much. The kids were my whole life."
In the meantime, the Lewis first grade team organized and ran a fundraising campaign that as of last week, says Martin, had collected over $3,000. One little girl, Abbey Delgadillo, a 3rd grader from another school, upon learning of the tragic event from her younger brother, Jacob, who is a special ed student at Lewis, donated her entire savings in her piggy bank.
Martin says Superintendent Wendy Doty and asst. superintendent of educational services Leslie Jones visited Lewis on Sept. 6 and expressed their condolences even as they extended an offer of support to the grieving Reyes household, leading Martin to remark: "This is what I love about the district. We're family."
The fundraising campaign is continuing, says Martin, and cash donations may be forwarded either to Elia Reyes, the kids' paternal grandmother, at 10406 Renoa Ave., South Gate, CA (telephone number (562) 528-1688) or Lewis Elementary School, c/o Robin Martin, Principal, at 13220 Bellflower Blvd., Downey, CA 90240 (telephone number (562) 904-3590, ext. 2580).
Plans for a car wash fundraiser are still being finalized, in order to help with funeral and funeral-related expenses.
Angelina's 1st-grade teacher, Miss Teague, remembers her fondly: "Angelina loved to learn and she cared about everyone in the class. She loved losing her teeth so the tooth fairy would come visit her."
This is what Richard's 2nd grade teacher says of him: "Richard is a boy who loves to learn, is cooperative and well-liked by all the children. He has lots of gusto, follows rules, and aims to please."
Martin has been principal at Lewis, which has 760 K-5 students and is host school to TLC (True Lasting Connections), since 2007.
Viewing of the Reyes siblings started Thursday, Sept. 20, and continues to just before 9 a.m. Friday at Continental Funeral Home, located at 5353 E. Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles, to be followed immediately by a 9 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Compton. Interment follows at Inglewood Park Cemetery.
Those who'd like to visit with the Reyes House are invited to proceed to l0406 Renoa Ave. (between Imperial Highway and Karmont) in South Gate.
Published: September 20, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 23