December 27

Crash devastates family

first_imgTo Zenaida Gutierrez, education always came first. That’s a message she drove home to her two children, Luis and Isaac, before going off to her night job cleaning labs for Kaiser Permanente. “Where she works, it’s just hard work,” said Luis Gutierrez, 25. “She wants me to get a better job than where she’s been working, to continue school, to have a good education. “Now, I don’t know if I can do that.” Gutierrez, a 54-year-old immigrant from Bolivia, was killed on her way home from work at 2:40 a.m. Thursday in a hit-and-run collision. Her sport utility vehicle stalled on the 170 Freeway and was struck by a drunken driver. The force of the collision sent the SUV over the side of an embankment and onto the Golden State Freeway, authorities said. She died at the scene. “We’re looking at a 70-mph rear-end collision,” CHP Officer Leland Tang said. “That’s pretty hard. There was no brake application. It’s an unfortunate circumstance.” Michael Lavoie, 23, of Northridge was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and felony driving under the influence. Gutierrez was the glue for a tight-knit family of four. She drove Luis and Isaac, 20, to school and cared for her sick husband, Ismael, who is blind and suffers from diabetes. Luis and Zenaida took turns taking Ismael to dialysis sessions three times a week. She organized family barbecues in their backyard, often cooking traditional Bolivian dishes, making sure her children got a taste of her native culture. For a long time, she worked two jobs, running the parents center at Sylmar Elementary School by day and cleaning at Kaiser by night. During her spare time, she collected clothes from a local church to give to needy parents at the school. “She’d go out of her way to help whoever needed help,” said Yolanda Guerra, principal of Sylmar Elementary. “She was very resourceful and she was a very good mother. Her kids meant everything to her.” At the school, she helped build up the parents center from a one-room operation into a larger center with its own bungalow. She explained to other parents the importance of education for children and arranged parenting classes for them. She was the only person who knew how to fix the school’s laminating machine. When she left a year and a half ago, Guerra had to buy a new machine. “She’s going to be missed, I’ll tell you that,” Guerra said. “She was just a wonderful mother and very supportive to the parents. She’s going to be missed deeply.” After Thursday’s crash, Lavoie fled on foot, running across all northbound lanes of the 5. Police checked the registration of his abandoned car and arrested him at his home about 5:15 a.m. “The hardest thing was coming into my house and explaining it to my dad,” Luis Gutierrez said. “He’s not a very well man. He took it really hard. “Drinking and driving, it’s a terrible thing. It can change a person’s life. She was everybody’s friend. She cares about the community. She was always there for parents, and she was always there for us.” A funeral will take place at 6 p.m. June 4 at Funeraria del Angel-JT Oswald in San Fernando, 1001 N. McClay Ave. [email protected] (818) 713-3669160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more