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Coffins count an untold grief

EARLIMART -- The loud, mournful wails began inside a home as relatives assembled the three coffins next to each other.

Sergia Salas was only 31. In a white coffin next to her was daughter Celene Pompa, who just celebrated her 13th birthday. Nearby was Salas' niece, Yenifer Salas, 7.

Across the tiny farming town of Earlimart on Monday, Dalia Olvera stood on the steps of a small, single-story home. Relatives clutched onto Olvera, 22, as men carried three coffins containing her entire family to the back of the home for a viewing.

One of the coffins held Olvera's 3-year-old son, Miguel Flores. Another held Arcelia Flores, 2. Inside the third was Olvera's boyfriend, Oracio Flores, 32, and next to him was their 5-month-old son, Oracio Flores Jr.

Olvera's family -- along with Salas and her daughter and niece -- died Nov. 17 in one of the worst single-car wrecks in rural Kings County.

A 10 a.m. Mass will be held today for Salas, Celene and Yenifer at St. Jude Catholic Church in Earlimart. The service will be followed by a burial at North Kern Cemetery District.

The bodies of Flores and his children are expected to be flown to Mexico on Thursday, said Marta Bassett, an Earlimart Elementary School District official who is helping the families.

Monetary donations and cards filled with prayers from residents of Madera, Fresno, Pixley, Tipton and Kingsburg have trickled into the Earlimart school district.

The Fresno Regional Foundation, a nonprofit group, is giving a $4,516.28 grant to help offset funeral expenses for Salas, her daughter and niece. The money is from the Departed Angels Fund, which is intended to help families when a child is tragically lost.

"Both families are coping with the losses," Bassett said. "We are very appreciative of all the donations that have been made to support our families."

Families of the crash victims also have opened up trust funds.

The fatal crash occurred after Sergia Salas was driving the group home from a birthday party for Celene in Salinas. Salas failed to stop at a posted sign at Utica and 6th avenues in Kings County, according to California Highway Patrol officers. She lost control of the car after it hit a dirt embankment and overturned into a canal, officials said.

All seven people died from drowning in the canal, according to Kings County sheriff's officials.

Olvera survived the crash. She was able to crawl out of a window and flag down a motorist. Salas' other daughter, Esmeralda Pompa, 10, also survived after the motorist broke a back window of the 1992 Ford Explorer and pulled Esmeralda out of the vehicle.

Olvera, who picked grapes alongside her boyfriend to provide for their three children, said it will cost more than $35,000 to take their bodies back to Mexico and give them a funeral service.

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