RIVERDALE — This tight-knit Fresno County farming community is grieving the loss of a mother and her four young children, who perished Saturday night after her husband tried desperately to rescue them from a fiery accident.
"It's heartbreaking" Mary Ann Lopez, Riverdale High School's secretary, said Tuesday. "The whole community is struggling."
Lopez remembers when the mother, Esmeralda Tafoya-Saucedo, 29, attended Riverdale High School. She graduated in 2003.
"She always had a smile on her face," Lopez said through tears. "She would light up the room."
Lopez recalls Tafoya-Saucedo, who was known as "Lala," as a quiet, reserved young lady who always had a positive outlook on life.
"That smile," Lopez said. "I saw pictures of her children and I said: That's mama when she was in high school. They all have that beautiful smile."
The Fresno County Coroner's Office on Monday identified the children as Isaac Saucedo, 1; Nikko Saucedo, 3; Jada Saucedo, 6; and Breanna Reyes-Saucedo, 11.
On Saturday night, Tafoya-Saucedo was driving a Ford Expedition SUV south on Marks Avenue when a woman driving west on Excelsior Avenue did not stop at a stop sign and smashed into Saucedo's car.
The collision knocked the SUV into a nearby yard and it burst into flames with the family trapped inside. Tafoya-Saucedo's husband, who was following in another vehicle, desperately tried to rescue them, the CHP and witnesses said. The driver of the other car was hospitalized with major injuries.
"Our deepest sympathies are extended to all who are affected by this tragedy, especially the surviving husband and father, extended family, friends, and other students and families who have been impacted by this devastating accident," said Pete Faragia, superintendent of the Riverdale Joint Unified School District.
The oldest child, Breanna, was in the sixth grade at Riverdale Elementary School; Jada attended kindergarten at Fipps Primary School.
On Tuesday, Faragia and other school officials visited the father at his home.
"The community has really rallied behind this family to do anything they can to support the family," Faragia said.
The district has provided staff and students with counseling support and additional psychologists for those in need.
"He had a lot of family around and a lot of support," Faragia said. "As I spoke with him today he reiterated that he's very thankful for all the outpouring from the community."
A fund has been set up at Bank of the West by the family for anyone who wishes to donate. The bank account number is 033227991.
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