LOS ANGELES — A California man has been charged with murder after intentionally driving his SUV onto a busy freeway and slamming into a big rig, killing his girlfriend and injuring their four young children, authorities allege.
Cesar Iban Torres, 31, of Los Angeles, is charged with murder and four counts each of attempted murder and child abuse, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors. He is also charged with assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest.
Torres is being held in the Los Angeles County Jail in lieu of more than $6 million bond, jail records show.
Aimee Guadalupe Garcia, 26, was killed Thursday evening as she tried to wrestle the steering wheel from Torres’ grasp, her brother, Juan Zavala, told local news stations.
“Unfortunately, my sister sacrificed herself for her kids,” Zavala said in an interview with KTLA. “It just hurts that the kids are going to grow up without a mother.”
Zavala told NBC Los Angeles that he talked to his sister on the phone a few hours before the crash. She called him, scared because Torres was agitated behind the wheel.
“He was speaking nonsense, saying that God gave them power to destroy the world,” Zavala said. “That God asked him to give his family to him.”
Zavala said he spoke briefly to Torres.
“While I was talking to him, I could hear my sister (saying), ‘Please, please drive slow. I’m scared,’” he told the NBC affiliate.
District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement that Torres was driving a white Lincoln Navigator Thursday night when he entered the 101 Freeway near Haskell Avenue in Encino. Records indicate a call that came in around 7:01 p.m. reported the SUV traveling northbound in the southbound lanes of the freeway.
Within minutes, the SUV had crashed head-on with a tractor-trailer, killing Garcia and shutting down all but one southbound lane of the freeway for hours.
Footage filmed from news helicopters shows firefighters working around the mangled vehicle. What appears to be a child’s dinosaur blanket covers the windshield, shielding Garcia’s body from view.
California Highway Patrol officials told CBS Los Angeles that Torres tried to run from the scene. He became combative and allegedly assaulted the officers when they tried to take him into custody.
The officers used a Taser to subdue Torres, who was hog-tied and fitted with a spit bag, the news station reported. He was taken to UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital for treatment of his injuries.
It was not known if alcohol or drugs played a role in the crash.
The children, who range in age from 7 years to 18 months, were also taken to a hospital for treatment. The driver of the big rig, Jose Garcia Lopez, of San Diego, was not seriously injured in the crash.
Torres was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on the charges, prosecutors said.
“A family has been torn apart by this tragic collision that leaves four young children without their mother,” Gascón said.
Zavala told ABC 7 that one of his nephews told him after the crash what he had witnessed as his parents struggled over the steering wheel.
“He said, ‘Mommy saved us,’ and that broke my heart,” Zavala said.
A GoFundMe page set up to help the family with Garcia’s funeral arrangements indicated that she was a domestic violence victim.
“She was a loving, caring mother,” her aunt, Angie Valenzuela, wrote on the page. “Unfortunately, she was a victim of domestic violence for many years, and yesterday the aggressor fulfilled his objective.
“Thank God the children are fine, but very traumatized.”
As of noon Tuesday, the page had raised more than $38,000 for the family.
Zavala told NBC Los Angeles that his oldest nephew was traumatized the most because he saw and understood more than his younger siblings.
“He seen the state of his mother, and how his dad fled the scene,” Zavala said. “It’s sad to know that my sister gave up her life for her kids to stay quiet, just to maintain a happy home when it was actually not happy.”
Zavala had a message for his brother-in-law.
“You are responsible for taking my sister’s life away and leaving your children without a mother and father,” he said, according to the station. “Thank God I’m here as a good uncle and a good older brother. I will take responsibility for my nephews because that’s what my sister wanted to do.”
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