Note: The original version of this story reported Raymond Romero’s age as 31 based on erroneous information initially provided by his family, who have corrected his age.
The 32-year-old, his fiancée, Miranda Garza, and their two sons traveled from Hanford to Romero’s hometown of Corcoran to eat tamales and exchange gifts at his grandmother’s home. He gushed over his fiancée’s pregnant belly to dozens of family members. Romero and Garza, who were inseparable since they met in high school, were expecting their first daughter in just a few weeks. Romero planned to spoil her as much as he could.
The couple, their sons ages 7 and 8 and a 9-year-old cousin loaded up their car with their Christmas spoils and set off for home. Christmas always held a special meaning to the family, as it was also Garza’s and Romero’s 13th anniversary of being together.
One hour later, Romero was dead – killed in an instant after a black truck failed to stop at a red light and slammed into the driver’s side of the family’s car at the corner of Hume Avenue and Eleventh Avenue in Hanford. Police believe three people in the truck left Romero’s heavily pregnant fiancée and the three children badly hurt.
Virginia Romero, Raymond’s aunt, received the grim phone call. She says she thought of Raymond as her younger brother, as her mother had raised them together after Raymond’s parents abandoned him.
“He loved his kids. They could do no wrong. They were like a big rose in his eyes – his whole world. He did everything he could for his boys.”
Raymond worked at a Rally’s fast food restaurant in Hanford. Garza worked at the local Kohl’s. The two had saved for years to buy their car – now a tangled mass of metal and glass, evidence in a grisly crime.
His aunt recalled seeing Romero’s two sons, Raymond III and Nathaniel, open their presents that afternoon – Nerf guns, fire trucks and stockings filled with knickknacks. They also received remote-controlled electric helicopters, which she remembered flew about 10 feet off the ground.
He loved his kids. They could do no wrong. They were like a big rose in his eyes – his whole world. He did everything he could for his boys.
Virginia Romero, on her recently deceased nephew
Later that night, the three young boys – Raymond III, Nathaniel and cousin Louie Romero Jr. – would ride in a real helicopter. After suffering critical injuries in the crash, Raymond and Nathaniel were airlifted to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera County. Louie was taken to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.
Virginia Romero said that the boys were fighting for their lives. Louie is in particular trouble, having suffered a brain hemorrhage and a fractured skull. Nathaniel started talking again Wednesday, asking family members where his older brother and cousin were. The boys don’t yet know about Romero’s death and Garza’s condition.
“We believe in miracles and the power of prayer,” Romero said. “We need as much prayer as possible for our three babies still in the hospital. This family can’t have another loss.”
We believe in miracles and the power of prayer. We need as much prayer as possible for our three babies still in the hospital. This family can’t have another loss.
Perhaps the only good news the Romeros received this Christmas came from Kaweah Delta Medical Center, where Garza gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Elena Rizzle Romero, shortly after the accident. Garza’s neck was fractured in the crash, and she was in and out of consciousness during her delivery and subsequent recovery.
Virginia Romero said Garza did not fully realize what had happened until Tuesday morning, when Garza called Romero’s mother from the hospital.
“(Elena) is never going to know her dad other than what we tell her,” Romero said. “All we can tell her is how much he would have loved her, and we’re just going to love her even more. Because she still has a grandpa and all of us.”
(Elena) is never going to know her dad other than what we tell her. All we can tell her is how much he would have loved her, and we’re just going to love her even more.
Romero said she told Garza that she was “still a part of this family.” She set up a Go Fund Me account to raise money for Raymond’s funeral. As of Wednesday afternoon, the family had raised about $2,300 of its $10,000 goal.
Romero said her nephew had reconciled with his father, also her brother, as an adult. The elder Raymond Romero had taken a train from Manteca to see his son and grandchildren for the holidays.
He arrived at the Hanford police station as a tow truck was bringing in the shattered wreckage. A sergeant soon informed him that his son had died.
Investigators are hunting for those responsible.
The Hanford Police Department has named three suspects allegedly involved in the hit-and-run: Abraham Chavez, 21, Angel Castillo, 19, and Zoe Barrios, 18.
Castillo, who is believed to have been behind the wheel, was arrested Tuesday night. He was booked into Kings County Jail on several felony charges, including vehicular manslaughter.
Virginia Romero said she hopes the remaining suspects will surrender to police and accept their fate.
“We just want them to know that Raymond was an important man in our family,” she said. “He was humble and worked hard. He was the oldest of all the grandchildren. They all looked up to him – including my son.”
“And now he’s gone.”
How to help
Go Fund Me account: www.gofundme.com/nayduc-aunt