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BABY CRUSHED BY TRUCK; MOTHER'S DASH WITH STROLLER PROVES FATAL.

Byline: Jesse Hiestand and Lisa Van Proyen Daily News Staff Writers

A 1-year-old girl in a stroller was crushed to death under the wheels of a big rig Thursday after her mother darted from the curb in a hasty bid to cross a busy intersection, police said.

Maria Elena Gazarez De Garcia, 31, and a 5-year-old daughter who had been at her side in the intersection of Topanga Canyon and Roscoe boulevards were injured when the 18-wheel Freightliner crossed their path about 3:20 p.m., officials said. The infant, Janelle Garcia, was pronounced dead at the scene, traffic officials said.

``The truck was already into its turn when (the family) left the corner,'' said Sgt. Ronald Leanderts of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic Division. ``Witnesses say (the mother) was in a full run and when she realized the truck was there, she let go of the stroller.''

Based on witness accounts and interviews with the driver, Manuel De Jesus Argueta, 34, of Canoga Park, Garcia apparently was crossing the intersection with her daughters against a red light, Leanderts said.

Police did not plan to cite the driver for any violation, he said. After the crash, the driver immediately jumped from the truck to help the family. He was near tears after the collision, witnesses said.

Garcia was taken by ambulance to Columbia West Hills Medical Center where she was listed in stable condition with a broken left leg as well as neck and back pain, officials said.

The 5-year-old, identified by family members as Michelle Garcia, was taken by a Los Angeles Fire Department air ambulance to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

The medical airlift was the first by the Fire Department since another medical helicopter crashed Monday in Griffith Park, killing an 11-year-old girl and three firefighters, said Jim Wells, a Fire Department spokesman.

Michelle was listed in good condition with scrapes on her left ankle, a hospital spokesman said. Doctors planned to keep her overnight for observation.

Outside the West Hills emergency room, relatives, family friends and two other daughters of Maria Garcia - Cynthia, 4, and Anna, 8 - stood in shocked disbelief, some crying, when they learned the infant was dead.

``They all slept at my house just a few weeks ago. She was a very good baby,'' said Alissa Sanchez, a close friend of the family.

Sanchez, who lives a few blocks from the crash scene, said she ran to tell the father of the family, Alberto Garcia, about the tragedy Thursday, only to find him in bushes along Lanark Street.

``I slapped him and told him he was drunk,'' Sanchez said. ``And I told him: It's your baby! It's your baby!. He said: `No, no you're crazy.' ''

Police said Alberto Garcia, despondent and shaken, was intoxicated. He was detained at the scene of the crash.

He was sitting in the back of a patrol car when a heavy tow truck lifted the truck's cab so coroner's officials and police could pull the baby's body from the mangled stroller.

Hundreds of spectators watched the grim scene, including 27-year-old Julie McKnight and her two sons, ages 5 and 8.

``It's awful - that's a baby,'' she said.

A witness to the crash, Deborah Matthews, said she was walking toward the intersection when she saw the horrifying collision.

``She was crossing against the red light and the truck was turning the corner and couldn't stop. The cart went under the truck and she let go of it to save herself, and that baby got dragged,'' she said.

Witnesses gave differing accounts about whether the mother let go of the stroller or if it was ripped from her hands by the force of the truck, said Officer Gary Weller of the Valley Traffic Division.

The 48,000-pound truck came to a stop midway through its turn, after having dragged the stroller 38 feet, officials said. On the asphalt near the point of impact was a tiny doll of a little girl.

Maria Garcia and her daughters had been on their way home from a nearby medical clinic, where Michelle was treated for an arm injury, said Claudia Flores, 21, who lives with the family.

The Garcia family left Michoacan, Mexico, 15 years ago and settled in Canoga Park to build a better life, Flores said.

``(Maria Garcia) takes care of her kids. She lives for her kids. Her kids are her life,'' Sanchez said. ``She was always cooking, cleaning and running after her kids. She is a good mom.''

Maria Garcia normally stays at home caring for her children while her husband, a day laborer, sought odd jobs, Flores said.

Flores had intended to accompany Maria to the clinic Thursday, but changed her mind at the last minute. ``For some reason I decided to stay,'' said Flores, who was rattled by the crash. ``I couldn't move. I felt bad. I was overcome by emotions. When I went outside to see what had happened, the baby's body was still attached to the truck.''

Daily News Staff Writers Yvette Cabrera, Peter Hartlaub and Brooke Olson contributed to this story.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: (Color) Firefighters examine the scene where a big rig ran over a 1-year-old girl in a stroller Thursday at an intersection in Canoga Park.

Michael Owen Baker/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 27, 1998
Words:881
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