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Lives of local families devastated by fatal crash

March 12, 2001|By DORA DEPAOLI, Staff Writer

The lives of two area families were devastated by a head-on collision Jan. 26, on Highway 78 in Winterhaven.

The accident happened after a car crossed double yellow lines and collided with a sport-utility vehicle.

The incident claimed the lives of four people, the drivers of both cars and a passenger in each.

Killed in the crash were the drivers, Jesus "Jesse" Castro, 51, of Holtville and John Paul Flores, 22, of Calipatria. Also killed were Castro's stepmother, Socorro MagaƱa Castro, 57, of Holtville, and 6-year-old Juan Luis Villavicencio, of Blythe, the nephew of Flores.

Two-year-old "Lil' Arthur" Villavicencio of Blythe had been a patient in Children's Hospital in San Diego since shortly after the accident. According to his father, Arthur Villavicencio, Lil' Arthur has made extraordinary progress and was released from the hospital last week.

Other occupants of the Castro vehicle, Anthony Castro Jimenez, 7, and his brother, David Castro Jimenez, 8, were released after being at Children's Hospital for more than a week. Raquel Jimenez Castro, 40, the wife of Jesse Castro and the mother of Anthony and David, was hospitalized for a time at Palo Verde Community Hospital in Blythe.

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Arthur Villavicencio of Imperial, the father of Juan Luis and Lil' Arthur, said he "lived for" the twice-monthly visits from his sons. Recently divorced, his ex-wife, Veronica Flores, lives in Blythe.

"Juan Luis was very, very curious. He always asked a lot of questions," his father said. "When he saw a picture of me deep-sea fishing he asked when I was going to take him and Lil' Arthur. For Christmas I bought him a little fishing reel. He learned how to cast in 10 minutes. He was very coordinated and liked sports. He could throw a Nerf football like you wouldn't believe. He could throw spirals."

A carpenter, Villavicencio was on a construction site in Calexico at the time of the accident. At his son's funeral he found the courage to sing a song both he and Juan Luis liked, "Pictures of You," by The Cure.

"I sang it to him for the last time," Arthur said. "I've kept a journal since he died. I've already filled 24 pages."

Juan Luis's grandmother, Juanita Villavicencio of Imperial, has nine children and 27 grandchildren. Her husband, who little Juan Luis was named after, died the latter part of November.

"I have lost three children and my husband," she said. "I am getting rid of my house because there are too many memories. It has been so hard. I can't take any more heartaches."

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Donato Castro, the husband of Socorro Castro and the father of Jesse Castro, was traveling in a car a few minutes behind his son's vehicle the day of the crash. He declined to comment about the accident because of all the memories it brings back. At age 78, Castro still works four hours a day as a maintenance man for the city of Holtville.

Jesse and Raquel Castro were on their way to Las Vegas to celebrate Raquel's 40th birthday. A month after the accident Raquel still bears the marks of her seat belt restraint across her stomach and neck. Anthony has an arm and a leg in casts as a result of the accident and David has a sore head from it. Both boys are back at Finley Elementary School in Holtville.

A homemaker, Raquel said leaving her husband at the cemetery was one of the hardest things she has ever had to do. The bright side of that day was coming home to learn her sons were out of danger at Children's Hospital and would soon be coming home.

"I miss getting to talk with my husband," Raquel said. "My boys used to go to work with him on Saturdays."

She thinks God sent people to comfort her at the time of the accident. A woman and her husband traveling in a motor home stopped. The woman told her to be calm and pray. She has no idea who the woman was.

"She held my hand and prayed with me until the ambulance came," Raquel said. "Then in the emergency room an old man was there praying with me. I was all by myself. My boys had been air-lifted to San Diego and my husband and mother-in-law were dead."

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