By Louis Sahagun, Cindy Carcamo, and Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times
SANTA ANA, Calif. — They couldn’t afford costumes, so 13-year-old Lexandra Perez wore only face paint and her twin sister Lexi wore regular clothes when they dashed out the front door of the Fairhaven Apartments on Halloween. They carried orange plastic pumpkins.
They soon joined their friend, Andrea Gonzalez, 13, who lived in the same sprawling Santa Ana complex, and about 6:40 p.m. — just after dark — they set out across Fairhaven Avenue, a busy four-lane street just yards from their home.
They were in the crosswalk when a fast-moving Honda CR-V plowed into them, then sped away, according to police and witnesses.
“The girls had just started trick-or-treating when they got hit,” said Arlette Huerta, the twins’ aunt.
All three girls were killed, and Santa Ana detectives are searching for two men who they believe ditched the SUV at a shopping center lot down the block. Police said the Honda bore evidence that it had been involved in the hit-and-run.
It was the first of two fatal incidents involving pedestrians in Orange County on Halloween. Roughly 10 miles away in Irvine, about 30 minutes after the girls were hit, a 65-year-old man was trick-or-treating with his 4-year-old son when a Mazda struck them. The man was killed; the boy was rushed to a trauma center, where he was in critical condition.
In that case, police said, the driver cooperated with investigators and was released after questioning.
The Santa Ana hit-and-run occurred on a street that runs between Fairhaven Elementary School and a row of homes and apartment buildings crowded with families. Locals complain that the road is poorly lit, with too few crosswalks, and is frequented by speeding motorists. Many residents were out, and kids in costumes filled the sidewalks.
Neighbors said the 13-year-old Perez twins always walked together. Lourdes Castrejon, 46, who knew them for years, said they were sweet and well-mannered, always saying “good day” in English and Spanish. “I saw them grow up,” she said. “They looked just like the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
Alex Cervantes, a neighbor, said he was at home when he heard a crashing sound on Fairhaven Avenue. His 17-year-old daughter saw what she thought were three dolls thrown out of a vehicle, flying at least 100 feet. “We didn’t think it was real,” Cervantes said.
Then he realized the bodies were people. He said he ran out of his house and saw a dark SUV speed west on Fairhaven. He ran after the car but couldn’t catch it. He said his chest still hurts from the chase. “I really wanted to get those guys,” he said.
He said he approached the girls, who lay in what appeared to be a line in the street. The first girl was face-up. She looked broken but peaceful, he said. He found no pulse.
He moved to the second girl. She was face-down. He again found no pulse.
Paramedics had arrived and were trying to save the third girl. One witness said he saw her take a last breath before she died.
As Cervantes described what he saw, he said he had pictured his own children on the pavement and became emotional. “They cross here,” he said. “Some of them go to this school.”
Another witness, Clarissa Cisneros, 17, said she was putting up Halloween decorations when she heard a man screaming and then a bang. Bodies flew in the air, but she thought they were dummies and that it was a fake scene. She saw one of the bodies rolling alongside a black SUV, which kept going, she said.
She said she walked up to one of the bodies and pushed the hair back to see the face. “I knew she was dead. Her eyes were closed,” Cisneros said. She said she found some glow sticks and directed cars away from the bodies.
Andrea’s mother arrived at the scene but was not allowed near her daughter’s body; she collapsed into a policeman’s arms, her son said.
Throughout the day Saturday, dozens of people gathered at a curbside memorial of candles, bouquets and stuffed toys. Among them was 13-year-old Sandra Anderson, who had known Andrea. Her prayer was simple: “I hope you’re happy in heaven, Andrea.”
“Andrea was nice to everyone and always wore a smile,” Sandra said.
Darwin Corzantes, 30, who has twin daughters himself, made the sign of the cross, looked up, adjusted his baseball cap and said sternly, “I hope whoever did this acts like a man and accepts full responsibility.”
Andrea lived about a block from where she was killed. Witnesses said she had been trick-or-treating in a skeleton costume. Her brother, Josafat Gonzalez, 21, said she had carried a pillowcase to collect candy. “She especially loved gummy bears,” he said.
He said he had “a serious concern” about safety in the area.
“Somebody’s got to do something about the lack of lighting on Fairhaven and the cars that race down that dark street almost every night,” he said.
On Saturday, there was a small collection box outside the front door of the Perez twins’ apartment. “The family doesn’t have money for anything,” said their aunt, Arlette Huerta.
Above the box was a handwritten sign: “Prayers to our Friends who pasted away Oct. 31, 2014. Thank you for your cooperations.”
Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said detectives are still seeking to identify the two men in the hit-and-run vehicle. “We don’t know who they were,” he said. “If anybody saw them run into a house, or saw someone pick them up, call us.”
Bertagna said detectives went to a house listed in connection with the Honda’s registered owner, but they learned the owner no longer lived there. He urged witnesses to call 1-855-TIP OCCS.
In Irvine, a single pot of marigolds stands at the spot on West Yale Loop near Burwood Street where a car fatally struck John Alcorn. Alcorn was out with his son when a driver struck them less than 300 yards from their duplex.
Police said the boy, who has not been identified, sustained “significant” injuries and remains hospitalized at a trauma center in critical but stable condition.
West Yale Loop meanders around graceful, leafy homes filled with children who like roaming the Woodbridge neighborhood. Neighbors talked about their constant concerns about safety on the street.
“The city is growing, and fast, and we have a lot of traffic, but not everyone takes time to be careful,” said Nadia Zandpour, who has lived on the street for 15 years. She said she often sees motorists blowing through stop signs and kids darting back and forth along the busy road, near an elementary school.
At West Yale Loop near Burwood, residents said, there is little lighting after dark. “Drivers come careening around the corners,” said Lucy Gratz, who lives in the area.
Rob Bronson, a mail carrier who’s worked in Irvine since 1996, described West Yale Loop as part of a “wonderful, calm neighborhood” but said speeding cars are an ongoing problem.
“You must keep your head on a swivel at all times because you never know when some knucklehead is going to come flying out of nowhere,” Bronson said.
MCT Photo/Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times
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