Hundreds attend memorial for Riverdale family killed in crash

Mourners pray for mother, 4 young children -- and for Joe Saucedo, the husband and father left behind.

The Fresno BeeFebruary 25, 2014 

Three little white caskets at Oak Grove Cemetery near Laton held the bodies of young siblings killed in a horrific crash south of Riverdale.

Next to them stood two larger caskets. One was for the family's oldest daughter. The other was for the children's mother, Esmeralda Tafoya-Saucedo.

Anguishing over it all Tuesday was husband and father Joe Saucedo, who was in another vehicle and following his family the night of the Feb. 15 crash. Esmeralda Tafoya-Saucedo, 29, died at the scene with her children: Isaac, 1; Nikko, 3; Jada, 6; and Breanna Reyes-Saucedo, 11.

Their short yet touching lives were mourned Tuesday during a funeral Mass at St. Ann's Catholic Church in their hometown of Riverdale.

More than 600 people attended the service, filling up the church and leaving many standing outside. The throng included coworkers from Caruthers Raisin Packing Co. where Tafoya-Saucedo had been a quality control officer for the past two years.

Amid tears, family and friends said they wanted to show their support, especially to Joe Saucedo.

"We've been praying, but nothing is enough to ease his pain," said Veronica Anguiano, a neighbor of the Saucedos in Riverdale.

"It's heartbreaking."

The tragedy affected two schools in Riverdale. Breanna attended Riverdale Elementary; her sister, Jada, was a kindergartner at Fipps Primary School.

Bus driver Sherill Lovett attended with others from Southwest Transportation Agency. Lovett drove Breanna to her home twice a week after she finished an after-school program.

"All the drivers feel the loss -- we haul children every day," Lovett said. "You never think it's going to happen to one of ours."

The service also drew support from complete strangers.

"Just hearing about the tragic loss, we had to come and give the family support," said Karina Silva of Fresno. "I can't imagine what the father is going through."

Joe Saucedo helplessly tried to save his family after the crash. He had been following his wife, who was driving an SUV out of town on Marks Avenue. Juana Martinez Bejarano, also of Riverdale, was headed west on Excelsior Avenue at the same time and did not stop at a stop sign. She smashed into Saucedo's SUV, knocking it into a nearby yard where it burst into flames with the family trapped inside.

After the service, pallbearers carried the caskets out of the church. Each of the three youngest children's casket was decorated. An Elmo figure laid on top of Isaac's, while a Caillou figure laid on Nikko's casket. A doll graced the top of Jada's.

At the end of the service, Joe Saucedo left in tears with his mother Graciela Saucedo and his mother-in-law Laura Tafoya.

"To lose your wife and kids -- that's the hardest thing anyone can go through," said Jose Cantu, Joe's second cousin.

Following the service, the crowd drove to the cemetery for the burial.

Joe Saucedo sat in the front row, accompanied by his mother and mother-in-law, while hundreds surrounded him.

A long line formed to place flowers and to say good-bye to the family for the last time.

Esmeralda's niece, Rosie Lopez, 16, said despite the tragedy, she feels closer to her aunt than ever.

"I just think about all the good times we had together and know that she's still here with me. They are always going to be my side."

How to help

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.

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

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