After a suspected drunken driver suddenly pulled into his vehicle’s path, causing a violent collision, Faqir Singh’s first instinct was to hop out of his car to ask the other driver if he was OK.
The driver, Hector Jose Torres, 26, of Riverdale had been arrested in a DUI case just three days earlier. He survived the crash with major injuries.
But the 79-year-old Singh had been mortally injured.
“The hospital person told my aunt that he was breathing,” said Singh’s granddaughter Sandeep Kaur, 25, who drove to Selma from Colorado on June 7, the day after the crash. “All of a sudden, when they were checking (his pulse), it just gave up. His heart just stopped.”
Singh leaves behind a grieving family who are trying to come to terms with the fact that the man who befriended everyone, who took pains to make the world a more colorful place by planting flowers at his house of worship, would not be coming home again.
The room was left like he was going to be back tomorrow basically, I think that’s what really got us the most. He left the room just as if he was coming back.
Manvinder Singh, grandson of Faqir Singh
Neighbors were often surprised to learn that Singh was 79 because he still worked and was physically active. When he wasn’t reading his pocket-sized Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikh Holy Book, Singh frequently visited his gurdwara (house of worship) in Selma, the Sikh Center of the Pacific Coast, and would care for flowers he had planted himself. He often bought seeds or full grown plants, Kaur said, and grew them on the gurdwara’s property.
Jarnail Singh Uppal, 54, an employee at the gurdwara, said he knew Singh for more than 15 years. They are from the same village in India. Uppal said Singh would help serve meals and never hesitated to help cut the grass, trim trees or care for the plants there, and he did it for free.
Singh came to the United States in the late ’80s. The Selma home he and his wife lived in was the first one he had bought since he arrived from the village of Kang Sahbu in Punjab, India. Two brothers and a sister still live there.
Manvinder Singh, 21, Singh’s youngest grandson, said the family always offered Singh the chance to stop working.
“We always told him to stop, but he wanted to stay,” Manvinder Singh said. His grandfather wanted to stay active because he feared his knees would give out if he stopped working.
Singh was on his way home from his job at the Del Monte Foods Co. plant in Hanford around 10:34 p.m. June 6 when police say Torres, who had been parked on the east shoulder of Highway 43, suddenly pulled onto the highway and into the path of Singh’s Honda. The crash caused the Honda’s airbag to deploy and damaged the front end severely.
Singh got out of his crashed car, walked to Torres’ car to check on him, then collected his lunch box, helmet and gloves before the tow truck arrived.
Kaur said her grandfather believed he would be OK despite the crash. He wanted to save his work equipment, “thinking he was going to go to work the next day,” she said. “He worked the whole week.”
Singh’s grandchildren said drunken driving didn’t just take their grandfather, but also snuffed out a friend of the community.
The tow truck driver told Singh he was bleeding from his nose and needed care. The two knew each other. Singh insisted he was fine, and explained that the crash was not his fault. After refusing to go to the hospital by ambulance, a police officer drove him there. He died shortly after at Adventist Medical Center.
Torres, who was arrested and accused of DUI following the accident, had his DUI charge upgraded to a murder charge in Fresno County Superior Court on June 9. Court records showed Torres had been in a multiple offender DUI program in 2011. He was booked into Fresno County Jail with a bail of $1,021,000, according to jail records.
Singh and his wife had been planning to move in with their son who lives in Colorado; another lives in Oregon. But Harjinder Kaur, who does not speak English, will now stay in Selma for some time with family.
“He was everything for her and he would take care of everything,” Kaur said.
Kaur and Manvinder Singh said losing their grandfather is tough. “We actually lost our grandpa, but on the other hand, his family (in India) is going to lose him too,” she said.
Relatives in northern India will soon receive Singh’s ashes. It’s a custom in Indian culture to cremate the dead. In the afterlife, the dead are believed to reunite with their lost relatives. Kaur said her grandfather will reunite with his parents in heaven.
In a body of water that is about five hours from the village, Singh’s ashes will be released. It’s a place where many ancestors have gone to rest, and soon Singh will join them.
A gurdwara member has been praying twice a day in Singh’s room; it was emptied when he died. Traditionally, Sikh religious prayer lasts eight days from the moment the family receives the body until the moment the body is cremated. On Friday, the family will dress Singh before he is cremated on Saturday.
Singh’s belongings, including the work equipment he had taken out of his vehicle, are now stored.
“The room was left like he was going to be back tomorrow basically, I think that’s what really got us the most,” Manvinder Singh said. “He left the room just as (if) he was coming back.”