Mary Hernandez had spent the evening with friends after meeting up at a dance class.
Veronica Gonzalez was driving home after celebrating her engagement to Ely Alba-Gonzalez at a party in Dallas.
They were among the strangers who stopped to help after a BMW crashed on Interstate 30 early Sunday morning, east of downtown Fort Worth.
Some who stopped were still in their cars, and others were standing on the freeway or its shoulder when a Ryder truck carrying newspapers crested a hill near Oakland Boulevard and crashed into the crowd, resulting in a fiery 10-vehicle pileup that killed five people and injured 12.
So far, authorities have positively identified three people killed — Hernandez, Gonzalez and Alba-Gonzalez’s younger sister, Clarissa Banda-Castillo, 18.
The fourth was identified by his daughter as Steve Franklin but no other information was available.
The fifth was the driver of the BMW. Because of burns, officials said, it may take time to get a positive ID.
‘A flash and fire’
Alba-Gonzalez’s mother, Cheryl Banda of San Antonio, was driving with her back to Fort Worth about 2:15 a.m., Banda told the Star-Telegram on Monday.
Veronica Gonzalez and Banda’s youngest daughter, Clarissa Banda-Castillo, were riding in a car in front of them when they happened upon the BMW crash and swerved to the right shoulder, she said.
Gonzalez and Banda-Castillo rushed out to help.
“My daughter Ely runs over to tell them to get back in the car and it wasn’t but a matter of seconds before the semi came barreling through there,” Banda said. “It was a flash and fire around me. I was on the passenger side of my daughter’s truck and all I could see was airbags around me.”
It wasn’t until Banda was released from Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth Sunday night that she realized that her youngest daughter had been flown to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas
“By the time I got there, she was pretty much brain-dead,” Banda said. “She had a very, very serious brain injury. I couldn’t even identify her.”
Banda said Parkland staff asked if her daughter had any identifying marks. Yes, there was a wolf tattoo on her left leg. That was enough to ID her, they said.
“Clarissa was my sidekick,” Banda cried. “She knew I hated to go anywhere by myself. We were inseparable. She had just started a new job and took time off work to come to Fort Worth with me.”
The two lived in San Antonio together with another sister, Cassi Castillo.
Stephanie Franklin confirmed Monday that her father, Steve Franklin, also died in the crash and that her mother, Tracey Franklin, was critically injured.
“There are not enough words in the world to communicate what an incredible man my daddy was,” Stephanie Franklin said in Facebook message Monday.
Tracey Franklin’s condition was upgraded to serious Monday, hospital officials said.
On Monday, Fort Worth investigators continued to sort through the details of what led to the deadly crash.
“We have never had one like this,” said Sgt. Cynthia Blake, supervisor of the traffic investigation unit.
Blake said the Ryder truck was behind a westbound car when the driver drove up on the earlier crash and the people and vehicles that had stopped, some in the traffic lanes behind the wrecked car.
Blake said the 18-wheeler could not move over in time.
“It was too late when he saw it,” Blake said. “We have skid marks. He did try to stop to avoid it.”
The impact ruptured the 18-wheeler’s diesel tank, setting the truck, a BMW and a Toyota Corolla on fire.
Blake said the truck driver did not appear intoxicated and, as of Monday, had not been arrested or cited.
The investigation is continuing, she said.
The crash site is near a hill that is home to a single tree, which is decorated during holidays and is the subject of the 2005 children’s book The Homeless Christmas Tree.
The truck driver is a Ryder employee and was driving a 2012 truck, said Cindy Haas, a Ryder company spokeswoman.
“Ryder is deeply saddened by the injuries and loss of life resulting from the tragic multivehicle accident involving a Ryder vehicle and driver … ,” Haas said in an email. “Our deepest sympathies go to those involved and their families. We are fully cooperating with officials investigating this accident.”
Although Ryder’s name is often associated with rental trucks, the company also has a long history of distributing goods for other companies, including eight decades delivering newspapers nationwide, according to a company news release.
The Dallas Morning News has contracted with Ryder System since 1995 to provide delivery of its own newspaper and uses the company to deliver other papers, according to a joint 2002 news release from the two companies.
The Ryder truck involved in the crash was carrying copies of the Star-Telegram, The Morning News and The New York Times to a Star-Telegram distribution center in west Fort Worth, said Paul Keese, director of operations for the Fort Worth newspaper. The Morning News prints the Star-Telegram at its Plano production facility.
‘She was amazing’
At John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Alba-Gonzalez remained hospitalized Monday with what family members say are critical injuries.
Alba-Gonzalez has not been told of the death of her fiancee and her sister. Banda declined to talk about her condition
“We’re not telling her until she gets better,” Patricia Gonzalez, Veronica Gonzalez’s sister, said. “She doesn’t do anything. She can blink and move her hands, that's it.”
Veronica Gonzalez “was amazing,” Patricia Gonzalez said. “She was just always there for everybody. She was always happy, smiling, joking, playing around.”
Patricia Gonzalez said Veronica loved children and cared for her fiancee’s children as though they were her own.
“She always wanted to have one of her own,” Patricia Gonzalez said. “When she got with Ely, it was even more exciting for her. That’s what she wanted to have — a family.”
Two children were riding in Veronica Gonzalez’s Camaro when the wreck occurred but were uninjured.
She said the two women planned to marry out of state in the summer, then have a local ceremony in February in time for their second anniversary together.
They had just returned from a trip to Las Vegas, where they celebrated their recent birthdays. Veronica Gonzalez turned 43 on April 9.
“She was an amazing person. I’m going to miss her. She was a big part of our family,” Patricia Gonzalez said.
Alba-Gonzalez’s mom and sister were going to take her wedding dress shopping Monday. Now family have started a gofundme account to help pay for Veronica Gonzalez’s funeral.
“We have no money to bury her,” Patricia Gonzalez said. “We were not expecting for this to happen.”
A mother of three
Hernandez was a loving mother of three who preferred staying at home with her children over going out.
But on Saturday night, at the urging of one of her sons and her daughter’s boyfriend, Luis Estrada, Hernandez went to a salsa dance class to meet with friends.
“It’s really hard because we actually had to convince her to go out that night. She never really wants to,” Estrada said Monday. “Nolan and I were pushing her to do that. Now he’s blaming himself, which he shouldn’t do.”
Estrada said Hernandez was a nurse who worked in hospice care.
She was especially close to her three children: Eli, 13; Nolan, 17; and Samantha, 19.
“She had that kind of personality where she could joke around with them. It kind of took me off-guard when I first me them,” Estrada said.
“That was the kind of personality all of them shared. I thought it was so awesome,” he said.
Estrada said that the children are all grieving now in their own ways, and “they’re all really handling it better than I would be in this instance.
“That’s just kind of the kids that she raised,” Estrada said.
It will be a slow and painful process but they’re all strong enough.”
Staff writers Monica S. Nagy and Gordon Dickson contributed to this report.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655
Some of the worst fatal crashes in the past 20 years in the Tarrant County area:
April 12: Five people were killed and 12 injured when an 18-wheeler crashed into people at the site of another crash on Interstate 30 near Oakland Boulevard.
June 15, 2013: A mother, a daughter, a local youth minister and the stranded motorist they were trying to help were killed in a multi-vehicle crash on Burleson-Retta Road in southern Tarrant County that was caused by a 16-year-old drunken driver.
March 4, 2011: A cargo van carrying nine passengers and stacks of fliers for a pizza restaurant hit a tree along Airport Freeway in Haltom City. The van rolled about 25 feet, killing three people and injuring seven including the driver.
Dec. 27, 2003: Six people were killed and three injured when a 22-year-old drunken driver caused a chain-reaction wreck in Benbrook.
May 25, 2002: A wrong-way driver had been traveling west in the eastbound lanes of Airport Freeway for more than a mile before she caused a six-vehicle collision that killed her and three other people and injured two.
March 31, 2002: Five Abilene Christian University students from Nigeria were killed when their sport utility vehicle veered off Interstate 20 near Weatherford and crashed upside down on a concrete embankment about 30 feet below.
January 2, 2000: Five boys, all Irish Travellers, were killed when the pickup they were in flipped over a median on I-30 in west Fort Worth and landed upside down on another truck.
June 14, 1999: An Arlington man had a seizure and lost control of his car going west on I-20, crossed the grass median and collided with oncoming vehicles, killing himself and three other people.
July 3, 1994: The worst interstate crash in Texas history occurred July 3, 1994, in Weatherford, when 12 children and two adults were killed. A van driven by a California woman had broken down and was on the shoulder. As she was re-entering traffic, the van was struck by a tractor-trailer and burst into flames.
Source: Star-Telegram archives