'It crushes your heart': Trooper describes responding to crash that killed mom, 4 kids
SALEM, Ore. - In an emotional interview, an Oregon State Police trooper opened up on Wednesday about what it was like responding to the head-on collision that killed a mother and four children near Salem.
Court documents reveal the driver who survived told troopers he had a hangover all day, though, in fact, his blood alcohol level was .318, nearly four times the legal limit, after the crash.
Lt. Bob Charpentier, the trooper who supervised the crash scene, said he's never seen anything like it in his nearly 20 years with OSP.
"Everything's back to normal here but it's not for us. You know, it's not for the family," Charpentier said while standing across the street from a makeshift memorial on Highway 99E near Nevada Street.
The flowers, balloons and dolls there mark the spot where a mother, her three children and niece died on Sunday.
"It crushes your heart. I mean it just rips out your insides," Charpentier said. "Those little kids have loved ones that are gonna have to deal with this the rest of (their) lives."
Investigators said the mother, 25-year-old Lizette Medrano-Perez, was driving a white Buick southbound when a black SUV driven by Favian Garcia, 27, collided with her head-on.
Garcia was arrested and charged with DUI and five counts of manslaughter.
It's his second DUI arrest this year.
"They're just driving down the road. They didn't ask for this but that's what they were dealt," Charpentier explained. "It tears you up. You have to put up a wall and say, 'I've gotta maintain my bearing and I have to make sure to check my feelings while we're doing this.'"
Charpentier said the impact of the crash is felt by everyone involved including, of course, the family and the staff members from multiple agencies who were on scene for hours.
"I have young kids at home, so did several of my troopers and emergency responders," Charpentier said. "One image that I'll never forget is a pink princess crown, a 'happy birthday' crown. I'll never, ever forget that. Close my eyes and I see it and I'll never forget that. ... The first thing I did when I got home was I went and hugged my family. Just grateful that I'm fortunate that I get to go home to them when I do. And, you know, this family doesn't get that opportunity."
Charpentier said troopers and other responders cope by talking about the crash and by honoring the victims with the best, most thorough investigation possible.
Garcia had his first court appearance in the case on Tuesday. He's due back in court on Oct. 18.
A GoFundMe page has been launched to help the victims' family members with funeral expenses.