Education

11-year-old driver adds to shock of tragic crash

WOODVILLE -- Grief over the deaths of three Woodville residents in a traffic crash was mixed Wednesday with bewilderment over why one of the victims, an 11-year-old boy, was driving the car.

The California Highway Patrol reported that Jose Silva Covarrubias, a sixth-grader at Woodville Union Elementary School, was eastbound on Avenue 168 in a 1993 Honda on Tuesday evening when he ran a stop sign at Road 152. The Honda was struck broadside by a southbound 1999 Ford driven by Charles Seguin, 44, of Porterville.

Jose's mother, Maria Silva Covarrubias, 30, and her daughter, Elizabeth, 6, were thrown from the back seat into a nearby walnut orchard. Neither was wearing a seat belt, the CHP reported.

Froylon Zamora Gonzalez, 34, who was in the front seat, had major injuries and was airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. He was in critical condition late Wednesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Seguin suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene, officers said.

Felipe Zamora Gonzalez, brother of Froylon Zamora Gonzalez, said he had never seen Jose drive a vehicle and didn't know why the youngster would have been behind the wheel.

He said the four were returning from Jose's soccer team practice in Tulare.

The Zamora Gonzalez and Silva Covarrubias families shared a home east of Woodville, a small community between Porterville and Highway 99. Maria Silva Covarrubias' husband lives in Mexico, Zamora Gonzalez said.

CHP investigators have not been able to interview Froylon Zamora Gonzalez to learn why Jose was driving, said officer Stefanie Buck, who works in the CHP Porterville area office. It does not appear drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash, she said.

Buck, a 10-year CHP veteran, said fatal accidents involving a driver so young are rare.

"I've never come across one," she said.

The superintendent of Woodville Union School District said she was "stunned" to learn one of her students was the driver in the crash. Dondreia Bradley said putting a child in the driver's seat was out of character for Jose's family.

The Silva Covarrubiases are "simply a wonderful family," and include Jesse, a seventh-grader at the school, Bradley said. It was unknown Wednesday who would take care of Jesse.

Maria Silva Covarrubias was supportive of the students and the K-8 school, which has 565 students, she said.

Jose was "engaging, bright, well-thought-of," Bradley said. "He had many friends and was well-liked and well-respected by the teachers."

Elizabeth was "a very thoughtful, purposeful student, very bright," she said. The young girl was a great reader who loved school.

"Many, many people are just heartbroken," Bradley said.

Woodville is a close-knit community of about 1,700 people, most of whom are Hispanic farmworkers, she said.

Froylon Zamora Gonzalez works at a dairy south of Woodville. He was described by a company official, who did not want to be identified, as a likable and dependable employee.

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