A spike in fatalities on Fresno County roads due to impaired and careless drivers came to a boil Wednesday at a news conference called to announce charges against the Fresno man accused of killing four people in a head-on collision east of Mendota.
"These are cases that don't have to happen," said Fresno County Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Anderson, who appeared with California Highway Patrol Capt. Dave Paris to announce that the DA's office filed vehicular manslaughter charges against Rien Ban, 43, of Fresno after the Sunday crash.
Such collisions "affect the lives of the victims, their families, the defendant's family, their employers and the whole community. It really has to stop," Anderson said.
Ban faces four counts of vehicular manslaughter after the head-on collision that killed Belkys Rodriguez Quesada, 25, and her nephews, Lisandro Enriquez Rodriguez, 10, and Danny Enriquez Rodriguez, 7 as well as Sineoun Uong, 37, a passenger in Ban's SUV.
The boys' mother, Suyapa Quesada, 37, of Mendota, Belkys Quesada's sister, was injured in the crash but is back at home. Another passenger in the SUV was also injured. Ban also faces charges in connection with injuring the others while driving impaired.
In Mendota, Quesada was home from the hospital, though she still had severe seat belt rash, bruises and burns, her brother-in-law, Clemente Enriquez, said in Spanish on Wednesday.
Since the deadly crash, the family has not gone to work, he said.
"The pain is indescribable," Enriquez said. "They don't sleep, only pray and cry."
The Mendota community has reached out to the family, offering prayers and donations for a memorial. The Enriquez home has been filled with visitors nonstop this week. Quesada and the boys' father, Jose Enriquez, have been home, but someone visited the crash site and set up a memorial with a cross, Clemente Enriquez said.
Though a date has not been set, the family is focused on the memorial service for their sons, which they will begin planning over the weekend when the boys' bodies are released by the Fresno County coroner.
Quesada's sister, Belkys Quesada, will be buried in her home country, Honduras, the family said.
Paris, the CHP captain, said there have been 36 fatalities on county roads this year. That is a 30% increase from 2013 and Paris said many of them take place at rural intersections where drivers fail to yield for stop signs.
He implored drivers to avoid alcohol and asked that friends and family take the keys from impaired drivers. In addition, "put down the cell phone, buckle up and drive safely," he added.
Anderson said other charges might be filed at a later date against Ban and he did not rule out murder counts against Ban when the CHP concludes its investigation.
Court documents show that Ban has prior drunken-driving convictions that occurred in 2006 and 2001. Anderson said a third conviction dates back to the 1990s.
In Superior Court on Wednesday morning, Ban's arraignment was delayed to July 2 and his bail was set at $618,000. The complaint alleges his blood-alcohol level was .15 or higher. In California, a driver is legally intoxicated with a blood-alcohol level of .08.
Suyapa Quesada was driving her family home Sunday after shopping in Kerman. Ban was headed toward Fresno in a Mercedes SUV that smashed into Quesada's westbound Kia while passing a slower car on Highway 180 near Sonoma Avenue about 4 p.m. Witnesses said Ban kept his SUV in the westbound lane even after passing the slower vehicle. Quesada slowed and turned left trying to avoid a crash. But when Ban turned the SUV right, the vehicles collided.
A memorial fund for Lisandro and Danny Enriquez Rodriguez has been set up at the Westamerica Bank in Firebaugh. The account number is 0629893272.
Staff writer Pablo Lopez contributed to this report. The reporters can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6330.