An involving an unlicensed teenage driver took the life of a Parlier fourth-grader as he was walking to school with his big sister Thursday.
Parlier police said the 17-year-old driver lost control of the white Ford F-150 pickup, which struck a block wall and then the 9-year-old boy, his 16-year-old sister and a 17-year-old boy who was with them. The 9-year-old, who family identified as Diego Estrada, died at the scene.
“This is a very sad day for Parlier,” said Gerardo Alvarez, Parlier Unified School District superintendent.
Estrada was a fourth-grade student at Brletic Elementary School, on the grounds of Parlier High and about a mile’s walk east of the accident scene. School counselors were with the boy’s family, and will be at the school Friday to speak with students, staff and parents as needed, Alvarez said.
“The student died as the result of a freak accident,” he said.
The crash happened about 9:30 a.m. at Tuolumne Street and Madsen Avenue near S. Ben Benavidez Elementary School, and news of the accident quickly swept through the small Fresno County farming town. The boy’s death rocked the district, and Alvarez said he returned from a school superintendent’s training in Monterey because of it.
“It’s totally demoralizing; it’s very sad,” Alvarez said. “But also, we see our community come together.”
At Diego’s home Thursday night, his mother and sister arrived from the hospital, the sister on crutches with one knee bent. The mother sobbed as she walked in the house.
Mercedes Zamora, Diego’s godmother who said she raised him since he was 2 months old, remembered him as a sweet boy who called her “Mami.”
“He always gave me my kiss,” she said in Spanish, “always.”
Zamora said Diego loved school and wanted to be a teacher. He also loved sports. Thursday he was supposed to attend soccer practice.
At a late-afternoon news conference, police said the pickup’s driver did not have a driver’s license. Parlier police Sgt. Thomas Rodriguez said the driver was cited but not taken into custody and could face further charges.
He is cooperating with police. But he had a passenger with him who left the scene and police want to interview the passenger. The driver did not flee, police said. They continue to investigate the crash.
The driver, who is a student, was headed east on Tuolumne when he stopped for a traffic sign at Madsen and then turned left. But he lost control of the truck and spun out, hitting the wall and then the three youths on the sidewalk, Rodriguez said. Police did not release the driver’s name, citing his age and concerns about retaliation, and a school official said he was unsure where the driver went to school.
Fog was a factor, but “it was primarily the wet roadway” that contributed to the accident, Rodriguez said.
“The vehicle did lose traction, which caused it to go out of control,” he said. The driver overcorrected, he said. Alcohol or drugs were not found, he said.
Fog was so heavy that school buses were canceled for the morning, the district said. Bus transportation is offered for students who live far from school. A friend of the boy’s sister said she walked him to school every day before heading to Parlier High.
At the crash scene Thursday evening a crowd gathered, adding to a cross of candles and leaving stuffed bears, balloons, a signed football and a vase of flowers. One of the balloons read, “Un angelito mas en el cielo” — “One more angel in the sky.”
By around 7 p.m., police had blocked off the section of Madsen Avenue where around 50 people, many of them students, paid their respects. The cross grew and then disappeared among 60 or so lit prayer candles.
One of the first people to arrive with candles was neighbor Belia Infante, who said her husband ran over to the scene after hearing the crash. He found Diego lying in the bushes with a large bump on his head, breathing heavily and his eyes open. Infante said her husband brought out a bed sheet and covered the boy up to his shoulders. A short while after the police arrived, Infante said, they pulled the sheet over his head.
Parlier Mayor Alma Beltran said she was driving home from work when she heard about the accident. When she arrived at the scene, the boy was dead and the boy’s mother was there.
“She was screaming to be with her child,” but was held back because it was an investigation scene, Beltran said.
“I met with the mother at the scene,” Beltran said. “I couldn’t help but break down myself.”
The full details are not yet known, she said, but “no one did this intentionally.”