Mother, niece cling to life after Nevada crash kills five |

Mother, niece cling to life after Nevada crash kills five

Sandra Chereb, The Associated Press

RENO — A Utah family’s trip home from a wedding anniversary celebration turned tragic when a suspected drunken driver heading the wrong way on Interstate 80 slammed into their minivan, killing five family members, including four children.

Two other family members, a woman and a 2-year-old girl, were clinging to life Tuesday at Washoe Medical Center in Reno, authorities said.

The Meza-Arriaga family, from West Jordan, Utah, was eastbound when their 2001 Chevrolet Venture was struck head-on Monday night by a 1989 Ford Mustang driven by Stephen Scharosch, 51, of Grass Valley, Calif., according to Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Patrick McGill.

Scharosch, a retired firefighter, was charged Tuesday with five counts of felony driving under the influence causing death and two counts of felony driving under the influence causing substantial bodily harm.

He was jailed on $140,000 bail and scheduled for an initial appearance today in Reno Justice Court, authorities said.

“You have pretty much an entire family that has been wiped out by a (suspected) drunken driver,” McGill said.

“This is the worst crash I’ve seen in 21 years.”

The driver of the van, Fernando Meza-Arriaga, 31, sustained minor injuries. His daughter, Alejandra, 7, and two sons, Tito, 3, and Marco, 9 months, died at the scene. His wife, Maria Avelar-Mojarro, 29, remained hospitalized in critical condition.

Gloria Meza-Arriaga, 38, the driver’s sister, also died at the scene. Her 4-year-old daughter, Gloria Destiny Vasquez, died a few hours after the crash at the Reno hospital. Another daughter, 2-year-old Liliana Vasquez, suffered a severe head injury and was clinging to life, McGill said.

Patti Kelley, an emergency room nurse from Florida who was one of the first motorists on the scene Monday night, described the horror.

“The debris from the cars was just spread all over, then they started finding bodies that were just scattered,” Kelley told KTVN-TV in Reno.

She described how the father, Meza-Arriaga, worked to try to save his wife’s life.

“He helped her out of the car and laid her on the blanket. She was obviously in a lot of pain. He would bring the (dead) children to her and put them on the blanket,” she said.

None of the eight family members was wearing safety belts when the crash occurred near the Wadsworth exit, 20 miles east of Reno, McGill said.

“There was a child restraint seat in the van. But if it was used it was probably used improperly because the child was ejected,” the trooper said.

McGill said it’s hard to say whether the victims would have survived otherwise had they been using safety belts.

“They would have had a shot, anyway,” he said.

Scharosch’s Mustang was severed in two. He received minor injuries and was arrested after being treated at Washoe Medical Center, McGill said.

Authorities at first said Gloria Meza-Arriaga and her children lived in San Jose, Calif. But McGill said investigators later learned they all were from Utah and were returning home after attending a 50th wedding anniversary celebration in San Jose.

Another van carrying a Fallon family was struck by the wreckage.

Robert S. Collins Jr., 28, his wife, Jamie, 27, and their three children ages 8, 3 and 2 months, were treated and released, the patrol said.

McGill said Scharosch identified himself at the scene as a firefighter, and his car had a firefighter’s license plate. His booking sheet listed him as retired.

The wreck closed part of the freeway for nearly 10 hours.

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