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CRASH VICTIMS' FAMILIES FEEL VOID.

Byline: JUDY O'ROURKE

Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA -- John Tun was just passing through Santa Clarita one summer night last year, riding in a car packed with family and friends on their way home from a vacation up north, when a tire went flat on the freeway.

The tire never was fixed, and John never made it home to Long Beach.

A 20-year-old Santa Clarita woman faces trial in the drunk-driving crash that killed Tun and Thoung Pok, who stood beside him on the shoulder as he prepared to change the flat tire on her car. Prosecutors say the driver hit the pair before Tun could finish.

"We still miss him; it's still hard for us," said Rumchoul Ok, 27, Tun's wife of 10 years. "It was so unbelievable, even though it happened right before my eyes."

The crash occurred about 1:45a.m. on Aug.7 on the Golden State Freeway. The following day was Ok's birthday.

Ok and the couple's two children, Jason, 10, and Christine, 8, were in the car at the time but were unharmed. Also unhurt were two teens, neighbors of the Tun family, who were traveling with the group.

They had just spent the week visiting Pok -- a family friend and mother of seven, ages 4 to 15 -- who had picked them up and was driving them back home from Fresno because they had no car at the time.

Chelsea Elise Arcos, a graduate of Saugus High School who was then attending College of the Canyons, is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident and driving without a license. Authorities said she was drunk when she drove into the pair.

Arcos, whose father, Robert Arcos, is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department, remains free on $250,000 bail. Earlier this month, a judge ordered her to trial. Her arraignment is set for Tuesday.

Tun was one of seven children in his family, which emigrated from war-torn Cambodia to the United States in the 1980s. He was born in Cambodia. Still speaking of him in the present tense, his sister Tisha Tun, 26, remembers her older brother's warmth.

"He is a really loving guy," she said haltingly. "He's not the richest guy, but whatever you need, he'll give it to you if he has it. I know he's always got my back; I know he's always there for me, no matter what."

Tisha lived with her brother and sister-in-law for two years rent-free while studying at California State University, Long Beach, to be a teacher. He lent her his car each day after she had dropped him off at work.

She said one of Pok's teenage sons told her that his family would like to attend the court hearings but cannot afford to. She said Pok's sons live with their grandmother in Fresno, and their uncle provides their sole means of support.

Noy Panithpol, 31, a family friend for years, rooms with Tisha Tun in Long Beach. Panithpol cares for Jason and Christine on weekends, and Panithpol also speaks of John Tun as if he were still alive.

"John is the type who would never get mad at anybody," said Panithpol, a district adviser for a local newspaper. "He likes to joke around. Most people liked him."

Panithpol recalls hearing Song Tun, John's mom, lament the irony of escaping flying bullets from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia only to have a family member felled in Santa Clarita.

Panithpol has been at Ok's side during court hearings and accompanied Tisha Tun when she identified her brother's body for the coroner. After the crash, Tisha often wept at night.

"(She would) tell me to wake him, to go get him wherever he is," Panithpol said. "She didn't want to accept the fact he was dead."

At the time of the crash, John Tun was unemployed, but earlier he had performed maintenance at the nearby railroad terminal, Panithpol said. His family lived with Ok's older sister.

Panithpol said the family has drawn closer since the crash, planning more outings together. Panithpol said the kids are mum about the loss of their dad, but sometimes Christine -- "a daddy's girl" -- remembers him fondly in a roundabout way.

"She'll say to her mom, 'Can you fry us some eggs the way Daddy used to do?'" Panithpol said.

Tun's body was dragged 150feet in the crash. The kids saw their mom run to their dad but were shielded from seeing his body.

judy.orourke@dailynews.com

(661) 257-5255
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 30, 2007
Words:753
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