By Jose Gaspar
When tragedy strikes and a family loses a loved one, it is not uncommon to discover a scenario in which the same family is still dealing with the recent loss of yet another family member. Such is the case recently that has left two local families reeling in sorrow with the grief of losing beloved family members. In one family, the victim was 71 years old. In the other, a child of only 4.
Aug. 19 was a warm Sunday evening when Angelica Ramos had gone grocery shopping at Foods Co. on Haley Street. Angelica had spent the day with her mother, 71-year-old Guadalupe Ramos, who was visiting from Shafter. She planned to hop on Highway 178 after shopping to take her mother home. They never got the chance. As Angelica loaded groceries into the trunk of her car with her mother nearby, a man suddenly came upon them. Without saying anything, the man grabbed ahold of the gold necklace worn by Guadalupe and forcefully yanked it off, then ran away.
"I saw when he grabbed it and she fell backward," said Angelica Ramos. "I picked her off the hot concrete and said, 'Mom, are you OK?' But she was already bleeding," said the daughter. The frail 71-year-old grandmother hit the ground hard. The robbery also scared her, prompting a heart attack. She never recovered, and died.
"My dad gave her that necklace, a gold chain with an anchor, more than 20 years ago and she would never take it off," said her daughter. Born and raised in Cotulla, Texas, Guadalupe Ramos and her husband, Horacio, moved to Shafter and raised a family of three children. Neighbors in Shafter affectionately called her "dona Lupe" to show respect, describing her as a gentle and giving woman. Dona Lupe had a favorite grandson named Angel, who was the first of 13 grandchildren born 26 years ago. Angel Avila is also the son of Angelica Ramos.
But in life's twists and turns, Angel's life was also taken away in a shooting that happened just three weeks before his grandmother's death. On July 27 at about 11 p.m., Angel DeJesus Avila had accompanied a friend to a home on the 1100 block of Inyo Street. While his friend went inside, Angel waited outside.
According to police, witnesses said Angel DeJesus was approached by a group of people, one of whom pulled a gun and fired several rounds into his chest.
And in a span of 24 days, Angelica Ramos had suddenly lost a son and her mother. One loss is hard enough. Two losses in such a short time, though, I can't even fathom.
"I'm very angry!" said Angelica Ramos. Of some comfort to her is that witnesses quickly came forward and provided information to police that led to the arrest of three suspects in the death of her mother. Lawrence Slaughter, Maximillion Lee McDonald and Christopher Harvell Patterson are being held without bail in connection with the elderly woman's death.
Such is not the case with the murder of her son, Angel. No one has been arrested so far. Angelica is afraid the case will go cold and is appealing for the public's help in providing information to help solve her son's murder.
"We are pursuing some leads on this case," said BPD spokesman Detective Uriel Pacheco. Depending on where those leads go, the case might be referred to the Secret Witness Program with the offer of a reward. Anyone with information on the case is urged to call Detective Jeff Saso at 326-3535.
As if the cruel death of a 71-year-old wasn't bad enough, the death of 4-year-old Quani Pulley two weeks ago also gives one reason to pause. The boy and 23-year-old Jared Roberts were killed in a horrific single-vehicle accident. Also left injured was 5-year-old Mickey Pulley, brother to Quani.
According to the California Highway Patrol, 26-year-old Lonnie Haynes was driving at a high rate of speed when he exited Highway 99 at California Avenue. Haynes lost control, veered off and the car overturned before coming to a stop on its roof. Quani and Mickey were unrestrained and were ejected from the vehicle. Haynes was also found to be under the influence of alcohol, said the CHP. He was not seriously injured, and was arrested and charged with six felonies, including two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and willful cruelty to a child.
"My nephew did not have to die like that," said Doris Mixon, aunt of Quani and Mickey. Mixon and other family members said they are puzzled by the actions of Lonnie Haynes. Mixon said she considers him to be a good stepfather to the boys and that up to now, he had only shown love and taken responsibility as if the boys were his biological sons. Haynes also has a daughter with the boys' mother, Quanita Johnson.
And just like the Ramos family, this family was about to observe the loss of another family member. Evonne Anderson, grandmother to Quani and Mickey Pulley, was killed in a bizarre incident Aug. 30 of last year. Anderson was in the process of moving out of her home on 30th Street. When she returned to gather her belongings, somebody had apparently taken a wall heater, leaving an open gas line.
Unaware of the open gas line, Anderson lit a cigarette resulting in an explosion that lifted the roof and severly burned the 40-year-old woman. Covering the story that day, I recall Anderson's daughter, Quanita Johnson, arriving at the scene and blankly staring in disbelief, praying that her mother would recover. Anderson succumbed to her injuries a few days later.
As Johnson and others were about to observe the one-year death of Evonne Anderson, another tragedy hit right around the same time one year later. That meant Quanita Johnson lost her mother last year in one accident, and this year lost her 4-year-old son, Quani, while 5-year-old Mickey recovers in a hospital. The latest report on Mickey is that he is in good condition, according to spokeswoman Jill Wagner of Children's Hospital Central California in Madera.
Mixon said Quanita Johnson was never the same person after the death of her mother, and now Mixon worries about how the young mother will hold up with the death of her son, Quani.
"I don't know how we're going to get through this. Lord Jesus will make this happen," Mixon said.
-- Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News" and a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are Gaspar's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.