In a community where everyone knows everyone, the loss of Kristian Macias Paiz, 23, his girlfriend, Jessica Romero Garcia, 19, Cristian Lopez-Cambron, 25, his wife of two months, Raquel Lopez-Valencia, 21, and Cambron’s sister, Yaneth Lopez-Cambron, 19, in a vehicle accident on Jan. 7, was a tragedy that reverberated not just thorough the town of Williams, where all five grew up, but across the region.
Exactly one week later, the body of Karen Garcia, 21, of Colusa, the sister to crash victim, Jessica Garcia, was found in her abandoned car in a parking lot in Woodland, an apparent victim of murder.
All six were remembered at a candlelight vigil in the Williams Town Square on Sunday night. Colusa County has seen tragedy before – the loss of soldiers in times of war and children taken too soon by cancer – but the shocking death of six young people, whose lives and futures seemed so bright, ignited grief almost beyond compare, said friends and family of the victims.
Itzel Ramirez, Yaneth’s best friend, said the victims’ families were holding on to their faith in God as they struggle to find the courage to accept such a great loss.
The five crash victims died around 12:30 AM on Interstate 5, north of County Road 17, near Woodland, when they were hit head-on by a vehicle being driven the wrong way on the freeway. Authorities believe Karen was likely killed the following day.
“They will no longer be with us, but we appreciate the moments lived and the moments shared with them,” Ramirez said.
Hundreds of people attended the vigil, where family and friends shared stories and offered condolences to the victims’ parents and siblings.
A total of four families were affected by the tragedy.
The vigil followed a week of fundraising to help with burial expenses for the five killed in the collision, only to find out Jan. 14, the day of the vigil, that a sixth funeral would have to be planned.
Williams High School athletes lined E Street in Williams on Saturday, taking cash donations, while others sold T-shirts with a photo and the words “Rest in Peace.” A go-fund me account had raised almost $25,000 by Monday.
“We just want to help support the families anyway we can,” said Myriam Narez.
Granzella’s and Louie Cairo’s, where some of the victims worked, also contributed to fundraising efforts.
“This community is great,” said Johnnie Quintero, of Colusa, on Saturday, the day before murder-victim Karen Garcia’s body was found. “I’ve seen this before in small communities, but it has never hit home as hard as it has.”
Quintero and his wife, Linda, spent last week frantically searching for Karen, who was last seen alive on Jan. 8.
The couple, along with Karen and her mother, Gloria, all worked at Granzella’s, and Karen and Salvador Garcia, Jr., the father of Karen’s child, were members of the Quintero wedding party.
Quintero said everyone involved in the tragedy were extremely close. However, Salvador, who helped paint hearts, Karen’s license plant number, and the hash tag “bringkarenhome” on dozens of vehicles in Williams on Saturday, is now a suspect in connection with her murder.
Other victims of the vehicle crash were connected to Louie Cairo’s family of employees.
Jennifer Abel, Louie Cairo’s manager, spoke fondly of Jessica and Yaneth at Sunday night’s vigil.
Jessica had worked at the restaurant for three years; Yaneth worked at the Louie Cairo’s just over a year.
“Jessica always had a smile on her face, even though she was a little quiet at times,” Abel said. “She (was) pleasant, dependable and an extremely hard worker. She was always willing to go the extra mile. When she was done with her work, she (jumped) in to help the cooks, to help the servers and to help on the floor anywhere she (could). Yaneth came to us as a hostess in the front of the house…such a pretty face with such a beautiful smile – and always in a happy mood. I feel like they were a part of my family as well.”
Family and friends of Jessica’s boyfriend, Kristian Macias Paiz, referred to him as “P-Nut,” and said he brought life into everything and everyone around him, that he always had a smile on his face, and was a “beautiful soul” who would be greatly missed.
Yaneth’s brother, Cristian Lopez-Cambron, and his new wife, Raquel, were said to be deeply in love, were joyously happy to be married, and were looking forward to spending their lives together and raising a family. ■