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San Jose Family's Fundraiser to Bury Infant Ends in Tragic Crash

San Jose Family's Fundraiser to Bury Infant Ends in Tragic Crash

Posted By The Dunnion Law Firm || 23-Jun-2009

The day began bright and hopeful, recalled Florentino Ramirez.

Ramirez, 25, an unemployed union carpenter from the Central Valley town of Patterson, was holding a carwash Saturday at the parking lot of a business south of downtown San Jose to raise money to bury his daughter, Florentina, who died June 16 after being born prematurely at 23 weeks.

His brothers and sisters, cousins and aunts were pitching in. By lunchtime, the carwash was under way. Lila McGraw, his younger sister, was standing just off the sidewalk, between two parked cars, holding a sign to passing motorists: "CAR WASH! Help family with infant death."

McGraw was laughing, entreating cars in English, then Spanish. "¡Lava su carro!"

"I was washing a car and everybody was joking around, being happy," Florentino Ramirez said. "Then, I heard tire screeching and a big crash."

"I looked up and I didn't see my sister where she was standing before," he said. "I looked hard and I only saw the sign she was holding on the ground."

In one loud, careening instant, McGraw lay dead on the asphalt. A stunned Ramirez tried to revive her. An aunt also tried.

San Jose police said a pickup truck traveling northbound on South First Street had swerved to the southbound lane to avoid rear-ending another vehicle that had stopped too quickly. The pickup struck McGraw. The initial investigation did not indicate use of alcohol by the driver, police said.

"Our entire family is in shock and we're all devastated," said Jo Anna Castillo, a cousin of McGraw's. "It's really, really hard to understand."

McGraw, a single mother of four boys ages 19 months, 4, 7 and 8, was saddened by the death of her brother's child, Castillo said. As a working mom - she worked at a new McDonald's on Monterey Road and Curtner Avenue - she also understood her brother's tough financial situation. She wanted to help raise money to pay for Florentina's burial.

McGraw, who grew up in San Jose, was looking forward to getting married next year. She was newly engaged, Castillo said, and was excited about having a new spouse to help raise her family. Friday afternoon, McGraw had gone into Filomena's Audio Waves, a car stereo business on South First Street, to talk with the owner, Filomena Amezquita. Her pitch was simple: She wanted to hold a carwash at the business parking lot because she was raising money to help her brother pay for a child's funeral. She offered to pay for the use of the parking lot and the water.

"I told her no problem. She didn't need to pay me,"Amezquita said. "I will help her."

Amezquita was working the day of the accident. She too, heard the crash and the screaming.

"I can't imagine losing two members of your family at once like this," she said. "It is heartbreaking for me, and I want to help them in anyway that I can."

Amezquita has put up a collection can at her business.

Meanwhile, McGraw's family is trying to deal with the numbing reality of two tragic deaths in less than a week.

"I'm in and out of my emotions right now," Ramirez said. "I'm trying to stay as strong as I can."

Source: Mercury News: 06/22/09

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Categories: Auto Accident