Local News

Saturday, Jan 04 2014 09:22 PM

Family, friends mourn, remember their 'Princess'

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Joseph Almonidovar holds a photo of his daughter Princess Flores Almonidovar, who was killed in a vehicle crash early Jan. 3 at New Stine Road and Ming Avenue.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Family photo provided

    Princess Flores Almonidovar.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Flowers, notes and candles were left at the scene of the early Friday morning vehicle crash that killed Princess Flores Almonidovar at New Stine Road and Ming Avenue.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A friend of Princess Flores Almonidovar, Jamie Alora, left this princess crown at the memorial on New Stine Road and Ming Avenue where Almonidovar was killed in a vehicle crash early Friday morning.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Jamie Alora and Justin Wallace visit the makeshift memorial for their friend Princess Flores Almonidovar Saturday afternoon at New Stine Road and Ming Avenue.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

After a night of hanging out with friends, Neil Martinez was following his co-worker Princess Flores Almonidovar home early Friday morning when he saw a light rapidly approaching her car.

"It all happened so fast that I didn't even see the car coming. All I saw was, like, headlights and the car hitting her," Martinez said.

He quickly called 911, but Martinez was in such "extreme shock" that he had trouble speaking clearly.

"I was telling them, 'Hurry, hurry, hurry,'" he said.

It was already too late. Princess was killed on impact just after 3 a.m. At 22 years old, she was the primary breadwinner for her parents and two younger brothers, a well-loved young woman whom friends remember as an ever-smiling goofball.

Princess' father, Joseph Almonidovar, said when the family learned of Princess' death, the first question her 12-year-old brother asked, was "What will happen to us now?"

The driver who allegedly hit Princess, Alex Rubio, 24, was arrested by Bakersfield police after he reportedly ran from the scene. Rubio is being held on $170,000 bail on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and other crimes.

The Bakersfield Police Department is investigating the crash and has released few details about the fatal collision. Martinez, 29, said he was worn out and tired when the crash occurred, but that he does remember that Princess had the green light to cross the intersection where she was killed.

The crash

Recounting the traumatic experience Saturday, Martinez said he and Princess had been hanging out with a group of co-workers. Martinez and Princess -- both children of ministers -- were family friends and also worked together as respiratory therapists at San Joaquin Community Hospital. Princess had just dropped off a friend and was heading home with Martinez following her.

They were driving east on Ming Avenue in the far right lane, Martinez recalled. Princess slowed a bit as they approached the intersection with New Stine Road, but continued on.

Right as Princess was about to cross the intersection, in his peripheral vision Martinez glimpsed another vehicle coming fast south on New Stine.

The next second, Princess was hit.

Martinez heard metal crunching and swerved his own vehicle to the right to avoid running into the crash site. Princess had been driving a silver Toyota Celica, and Martinez said she was hit by a Volkswagen Beetle that came to rest upside down.

The sound of the cars colliding awoke Michael Kellams, whose apartment is at the southwest corner of the intersection. Debris from the crash shattered his bedroom window. Kellams hurried outside and saw a disfigured car on the center divider of New Stine.

"It was gone. The top was ripped off," he said.

The street was littered with wreckage after the crash and police blocked off the intersection into the afternoon, Kellams said.

Traffic flowed normally through the area on Saturday, but at the corner of the lawn in front of Kellams' apartment, candles and flowers for Princess piled up. Jamie Alora, 21, brought another candle and a vase of colorful flowers topped with a silver plastic crown on Saturday afternoon. To her, her friend's name was perfect.

"She really is a princess," Alora said.

A provider and a princess

Joseph said his daughter was named after royalty so that no matter what she accomplished in life, "still she would be a princess."

She was a fast learner, a strong-willed but obedient child. Born in the Philippines, Princess immigrated to the U.S. in 2003 with her family so her father could work as a pastor in Bakersfield.

At first, Princess didn't like their new home. She loved sports in the Philippines and had been trained to play badminton. But Joseph said later she saw the "beauty" of the United States.

She played basketball and chess in high school, Joseph said. She was senior class president and valedictorian at Foothill High School. Joseph bragged that while her classmates gave politician-style speeches, Princess spoke about a last-minute shot she made to win a basketball game to illustrate her tenacity.

Princess excelled in math and wanted to be an engineer, but she also wanted to be close to her family. She disliked blood but her compassion for patients eventually overcame her discomfort and she became a respiratory therapist after studying at San Joaquin Valley College.

She was outstanding at work, never in a bad mood, always smiling and dishing out jokes, Martinez said. She was respectful and treated patients like a family member, Joseph said.

Princess was also dedicated to her family and worked hard to provide for them, Martinez recalled.

"All throughout school, she was working at a pizza joint. And she delivered pizza in like the bad side of town, you know, for a little girl like her, just to support her family," Martinez said.

Joseph is a full-time pastor and his wife also works, but Joseph said his daughter was the family's primary provider. She bought the home where she and her family lived in northwest Bakersfield.

She made Christmas special. Princess was an excellent gift giver, Joseph remembered, always covertly searching for the perfect present, something she knew her family members wanted.

And the Almonidovars had an especially good Christmas this year -- Princess took the family out to eat and to see the movies "Frozen" and "47 Ronin."

"I didn't know that was her way of saying goodbye," Joseph said Saturday as he began to cry. "I should have known. I should have caught that."

Joseph said the crash should be a lesson to everyone about using drugs and drinking while driving. Even if they don't hurt themselves, the intoxicated driver could harm someone else, like Princess and her family, the pastor said.

"Life's so precious, you know? You will not realize it until it's gone," he said.

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