Sorrow follows shock

DELANO -- Days of mourning for one South Valley family culminated Tuesday with the burial of three victims from last week's tragic car crash in Kings County that killed seven people.

Hundreds packed into an overflowing St. Jude Catholic Church in Earlimart for the funeral Mass of 31-year-old Sergia Salas, her 13-year-old daughter, Celene Pompa, and 7-year-old niece Yenifer Salas.

After the Mass, two small white coffins and one larger light blue coffin were loaded into hearses and followed by a procession of cars down Highway 99 to North Kern Cemetery District in Delano.

Few words were spoken at the solemn event, as many relatives, such as 14-year-old Micaela Pompa, remained shocked over the Nov. 17 crash that took her aunt and two cousins.

"It's really hard because it's three of our family members," she said after the burial.

The Rev. Pastor Hermasillo presented family members with metallic crosses that had decorated the coffins. A short time later, the coffins were lowered into the ground.

Sergia Salas was driving the 1992 Ford Explorer that hit a dirt embankment and overturned into a canal on that fateful day.

The group was returning from Celene Pompa's birthday party when Salas lost control while driving at Utica and Sixth avenues in Kings County.

The crash also killed Oracio Flores, 32; Miguel Flores, 3; Arcelia Flores, 2, and 5-month-old Oracio Flores Jr. It was described as one of the deadliest crashes ever to occur in Kings County.

A viewing was held Monday in Earlimart for the Flores family, who are expected to be flown to Mexico on Thursday, according to Earlimart Elementary School District officials.

Micaela Pompa said she saw her cousin, Celene Pompa, for the last time on Nov. 16, Celene's birthday. "We were very close," she said.

Micaela said she tried to persuade her cousin to stay in Earlimart, while Celene wanted her to come to her birthday party in Salinas. Micaela said she couldn't get permission from her parents to go on that trip.

Micaela was accompanied Tuesday by a group of friends from Earlimart Middle School who wore white T-shirts with Celene's picture.

Micaela said her aunt, Sergia Salas, liked to travel to destinations such as Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.

She said she wasn't surprised about the large crowd at the funeral because of her aunt's outgoing personality.

"My aunt had a lot of friends in Earlimart," Micaela said.

Valentine Salas Carranza, father of Yenifer Salas and Sergia Salas's brother, said in Spanish that the family is depressed.

Salas said he is trying to stay strong for his other children: 4-year-old Alvaro and 6-year-old Yajaira.

He said his daughter, Yenifer, came to California from Mexico when she was 3. She liked to dance, go to the fair and eat Mexican food, pizza and McDonald's, he said.

Sergia Salas came to California when she was 15 and worked as a fieldworker picking grapes, her brother said. Celene Pompa was born in California, he said.

Valentine Salas Carranza said he wanted to thank the community for its support.

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.

The families also are being assisted by officials from the Earlimart Elementary School District and the Tulare Office of Education.

Officials have directed them to government agencies that can provide help and provided a school psychologist for some of the younger grieving members of the family, said Elaine Grande, a family service worker with Tulare County.

Said Valentine Salas Carranza, "I don't have any words in my heart to express my thanks to the community."