Suspect in crash near Sanger that killed 3 sisters had history of DUI arrests

The Fresno BeeJanuary 27, 2014 

The man arrested in a suspected DUI crash northwest of Sanger Saturday that killed three sisters and sent the surviving sister to the hospital had a history of drunken driving, the California Highway Patrol said.

Tranquilino R. Figueroa, 56, of Sanger, was convicted of driving under the influence in 2012, and was arrested on DUI charges again in the summer of 2013, said Axel Reyes, the CHP's public information officer.

Figueroa was due in court for that latest DUI arrest on Friday, the day prior to the crash, but failed to appear. Saturday's fatal crash marks his third DUI arrest, Reyes said.

Prior to the deadly crash, Figueroa was also involved in a hit and run collision, Reyes said. He was heading west on Belmont Avenue about 6 p.m. and failed to stop at the stop sign at McCall Avenue. He made too-wide a turn onto northbound McCall and clipped a gold minivan that was southbound. The driver had minor injuries, Reyes said.

He then continued north on McCall and struck a southbound Toyota Yaris head-on, killing sisters Jennie Monreal, 73, of Sanger, Josephine Contreras, 72, of San Jose, and Delores Rodriguez, 70, of Del Rey. The surviving sister, Elizabeth Rodriguez, 67, of Del Rey and Figueroa remained in fair condition Monday at Community Regional Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Mary Lisa Russell said.

Figueroa was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter. The CHP is seeking second degree murder charges for Figueroa, Reyes said.

Parishioners of St. Katherine Catholic Church in Del Rey said the women, known as the "Garcia sisters" around town, were born and raised in Del Rey, and were devoted Catholics. Delores and Elizabeth Rodriguez would always sit in the back pew every Sunday. The other sisters would join them frequently when they were in town.

Parishioner Adella Martinez, 69, said the community is still shaken after Saturday's fatal crash.

"We're devastated," she said. "It's a big loss for the community."

The sisters, who were all retired, were known as a close-knit family, and people who always had a smile on their faces.

"They were wonderful people," said parishioner Tony Nicasio, owner of Del Rey supermarket, who has known the sisters for many years. "You could tell they had a lot of love for each other."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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