Local News

Friday, Apr 13 2007 01:39 AM

Girl dies after being hurt in ATV accident

BY JASON KOTOWSKI , Californian staff writere-mail: jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Arlene Marie Ochoa never stayed in one spot for long. The 12-year-old jumped, ran, sang and smiled as she made her way through life.

But an all-terrain vehicle accident in a dirt field Sunday left Ochoa with brain injuries that ultimately forced her family to take her off life support. She died at Kern Medical Center at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

"She had a beautiful heart," her father, Robert Ochoa Jr., said Thursday.

His daughter ran cross country and played soccer as a student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Wasco. Until the accident, when students and friends showed up at the hospital, Robert Ochoa said he never realized how many friends she had.

Arlene was a passenger of an ATV driven by her 13-year-old aunt, her best friend, as they traveled through a dirt field in the 2300 block of Macau and Areili streets, a Kern County coroner's office release said. She fell off the ATV and struck her head.

Apparently, Arlene had been having so much fun on the vehicle that she kept letting go and holding her hands up, Robert Ochoa said. Some relatives were there, but were facing the other way when the accident happened, he said.

Robert Ochoa said he at first thought his daughter would make it, but doctors performed tests and determined Arlene was brain-dead. He consulted with his former wife, Veronica Mendez, and they decided to donate their daughter's organs.

Three recipients were found for her organs, including her heart and lungs, Robert Ochoa said as he sat on the edge of his bed with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Rodriguez.

"It's God's will," Rodriguez said of the accident. "He had her marked."

In addition to dealing with his grief over the death of Arlene, Robert Ochoa is grappling with guilt over not spending as much time with her as he should have. He said he was always busy working, and he didn't know his daughter as well as he would have liked.

Bakersfield police Detective Greg Terry said the accident is under investigation, but he doesn't know many specifics about it yet or whether any vehicle code laws were broken.

Under California law, anyone driving an ATV off-road must wear a helmet, Terry said. A safety certificate is required for anyone under 18 to operate an ATV.

The last ATV fatality in the county happened Feb. 19 when Honorio Rodriguez, 64, died from injuries he suffered after being struck by a car on Edison Road just south of Muller Road, according to the California Highway Patrol.

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