Sunday afternoon in Grand Prairie on instate 30, a 2004 Dodge Stratus sedan was stalled in the left lane in the westbound lanes near Highway 161. The stalled vehicle came to a stop in one of the left lanes and never made its way to the HOV lane or shoulder of the road. Shortly after the vehicle was stalled, the front passenger, Juan Gonzalez got out of the vehicle. The driver, 31-year-old Maria Francisca Vasquez, remained in the car with her children. The back of the sedan seats three, but unfortunately there were four children seated in the back. As Gonzalez was outside trying to alert other drivers, a Ford F-150 pickup truck rear-ended the Dodge.
Pickup driver Justin Beavers, age 30, was going the speed limit at the time. He had recently changed lanes and did not see the stalled vehicle ahead. He was unable to react in time and rear-ended the Dodge. The impact of the crash led to the deaths of the three of the four children in the back of the car. Maria Gonazalez-Refugio and Diannna Gonzalez-Refugio were killed on the day of the accident. The two sisters were aged 12 and 13. The youngest child in the car, 6-year-old Jesus Gonzalez, was taken off life support yesterday. Their sister Maria de Jesus, only 10-years old, was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center where she remains in critical condition.
An Avoidable Accident
It’s unclear whether or not the police will file any charges. FOX 4 news reported that investigators believed that “the fatal crash could have been avoided.” Sargent Eric Hansen remarked, “you should never stop your car in a lane of traffic. If it is coasting to a stop, get it off as far off to the side of the freeway as you can, whether it is to the left or the right. We believe there was ample room for this driver to move this vehicle out of the lane of traffic prior to it coming to a stop because the HOV lane is open.”
In addition to having four children in the back seat of a car that normally seats three, it’s unclear if the children were wearing seat belts. Early WFAA reports indicated that six-year-old Jesus Gonzalez was not in a booster seat which is against Texas law.
What’s Safe For My Child?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) car crashes are the NUMBER ONE KILLER of children ages 1 to 12 years old in America. Using the right car seats and booster seats can mean the difference between life and death for a child. Beyond what the law requires, a parent should absolutely know and follow the guidelines for child car safety. The NHTSA site: http://www.safercar.gov/parents/RightSeat.htm has great information.
Here are some quick facts:
- *Infants – 1 year olds should be in REAR-FACING car seats
- *1-3 years old, once the WEIGHT REQUIREMENT is met, change to a FORWARD-FACING car seat with a HARNESS
- *4-7 years old, stay in a FORDWARD-FACING car seat with a HARNESS until the child meets the height and weight limits then move to a BOOSTER SEAT
- *8-12 years old, child should stay in a BOOSTER SEAT until he/she meets the height and weight limits. Your child should stay in the BACK SEAT with a seatbelt even after outgrowing a booster seat.
Our hearts go out to the families who have lost their children as a result of car accidents like the one on Sunday. Please drive safely with your children, and keep national recommendations as well as Texan law in mind when travelling. A car seat, booster seat and safety belt can mean the difference between life and death for a child.