When Paul Romero and his longtime girlfriend, Destiny Mendoza, plus Paul’s sister, Rochelle Romero, and Rochelle’s boyfriend, Jimmy Gonzales, left home Saturday night, April 16th, to celebrate Jimmy’s 21st birthday, they had no inkling that a catastrophic change was a few hours ahead of them. The foursome tried to do everything right. They agreed to make sure they had a safe ride home from Duffy’s, a pub located on Imperial Highway, where they would be celebrating. Duffy’
However, just before the foursome was about to call it a night and send a text message for their ride home, David Huizar, Jr., and his wife, Delora Bravo, neighbors from their same apartment complex, arrived at Duffy’s on their way home from a party that they had been to elsewhere. The couples met by chance, and seeking to save their sister the trouble of picking them up, the group caught a ride home with David and Delora shortly after midnight.
I met Paul Romero eighteen years ago when I came home from work one evening to find a seven-year-old Paul on the doorstep of my Fullerton home. His family had moved next door a few days earlier. With no preamble, he asked in a clear voice, wearing the enormous smile that I would come to know was nearly always on his face, “Do you have any jobs for me to do so that I can earn some money?” I dutifully found a large planter in the backyard that needed tending. The “tending” went on for several days until I came home to find my young peach tree chopped down to a stump in his enthusiasm to really clean the planter. I did not have the heart to tell the proud boy of my horror at finding my peach tree gone. I wish I could laugh with him now about that long ago day, but I will never get the chance.
Despite the loss of the fruit tree, the relationship continued. Paul was ten when, in January 1996, he and his six-year-old sister, Rochelle, and nine-year-old sister, Roxanne, as close to her brother as a twin, witnessed with fascination as I carried my new bride in full wedding regalia across the threshold of my 1950’s three-bedroom L-shaped house that faced theirs. As the years passed, one or more of the three Romeros would burst in our front door nearly every day to show us something they had made in school, request help with some homework assignment, make crafts or just come over to visit. My wife quickly became as attached to the kids as I was and often tutored Paul in whatever school subject was giving him trouble.
The six young men and women walked out of Duffy’s about half past midnight and piled into the late-model black double-cab Chevy Colorado pickup truck. Sixty-
For reasons that may never be known, David was driving so fast that it terrified them. Rochelle and Destiny remember screaming at David, “Slow down! We have Children!” David lost control of the truck just a half mile up Walnut. Upon hearing the screech of tires and a loud boom, shocked residents rushed from their houses to help. When paramedics arrived a few minutes later, they found the truck’s cab wrapped around a roadside tree.
In the summer of 2001 we took Paul, then 15, and Roxanne, 14, to our family cabin in Glacier Park, Montana, where they had a string of brand-new experiences:
As Paul built his own family life, we mostly saw him and his sisters, Roxanne and Rochelle, on special occasions, such as graduations and holidays.
We got the call from Roxanne on Sunday afternoon. She was only able to say my name several times, sobbing, until her grandma took the phone from her to tell us Paul had died. At first we were simply in shock. Later, as we thought more clearly, we searched for news on the Internet and discovered that Rochelle was in critical condition, as was Destiny. Jimmy, the birthday boy and father of Rochelle’s child-to-be, was dead too, as was David and his wife, leaving behind their two children. We drove to UCI Medical Center where our own pain and loss was dwarfed by the soul-wrenching agony we saw in the eyes of Roxanne and the rest of the Romero family, whose lives were irrevocably shattered.
Now that more than a week has passed, Rochelle is off the critical list, as is her unborn baby. She has a badly injured spine, various broken bones, and must now piece together a life that includes the loss of her boyfriend and her brother.
Thursday afternoon, Destiny Mendoza, who has undergone multiple risky spinal surgeries, was finally told, along with five-year-old Emery, that Paul is gone. Destiny, still severely weak, replied to her sobbing family in a voice that was a whisper, “Yes, I know. Paul told me in a dream everything that happened.”
Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.
If you wish to help Paul’s family with burial costs, Rose Hills Mortuary has opened a fund and can accept credit card payments. Phone: