Family tragedy compounds after 3 relatives die in Pleasanton when tire blows out

A 62-year-old Sacramento woman and her two granddaughters died en route to San Jose, where they were trying to say goodbye to the family matriarch, who was in hospice and hours away from death herself, relatives told KTVU. 

Family identified the trio killed in an East Bay crash as Josefa "Joanne" Chagolla, 62, and her granddaughters, Evangelina Valenzuela Chagolla, 26 – who leaves behind four young children; and Johnessa Espinoza, 21. 

"It's hard, losing so many people in one day," relative Benjamin Hernandez told KTVU on Thursday. "I don't think it's set in yet."

As Hernandez told the story, his extended family members were driving down to San Jose on Monday afternoon to say goodbye to Josefa Chagolla's mother, Mary, who was in her 80s. She was on her deathbed and hoped the family could make one final trip to see her and bid her farewell. 

His wife, Angelina Hernandez, took a $100 Uber to San Jose.

Another relative took his own car. 

Josefa "Joanne" Chagolla. Photo: Family 

And Angelina Hernandez's brother, Anthony Chagolla, loaded up seven relatives – including her mother, daughter and niece – in his Honda Pilot to see his dying grandmother. 

They never made it. His tire popped. 

"My brother Anthony said the car spun three times, hit the wall and went down the embankment," Angelina Hernandez said through tears. "My dad started looking for everybody. My daughter and my mom were pronounced deceased at the scene and the rest of them were taken to a nearby hospital. She was my firstborn. That was my baby." 

Her daughter and niece were pronounced dead at the scene. Her mother died later at Eden Medical Center. 

Anthony Chagolla told the California Highway Patrol that his rear tire blew out along Interstate Highway 680 south of Sunol Boulevard near Pleasanton about 2:30 p.m., when the roads were slick with rain.

Anthony Chagolla told the CHP that he steered hard to the left, but his left side tire rode up on the concrete wall along the highway and he lost control. 

Hahn said he told officers that he ended up crossing all the lanes onto the right shoulder, which is bordered by a steep sloped curb edge, causing his car to fly in the air and broadside a tree.

The Honda landed back down on the embankment and slid down about 20 feet, causing Alameda County fire crews to rescue survivors by hoisting them up on a gurney.

At least three of the passengers, including Connie Dethvongsa who suffered a broken pelvis, were not wearing seat belts, the CHP said. 

There were two 1-year-old boys in the Honda; as of Thursday, one was still in the hospital. 

Anthony Chagolla and his father-in-law also did not suffer any major injuries, but Benjamin Hernandez said his brother-in-law is suffering emotionally.

"He is beating himself up," Hernandez said. "He's blaming himself."

But Angelina Hernandez said her brother had recently put new tires on his car, and he shouldn't feel this way.

"You did what you ould," she told him. "This isn't your fault. It was an accident and the tires were brand new." 

The CHP said the Honda Pilot was taken for evidence and the possibility of a tire blowout will be examined. Alcohol and drugs are not suspected, but the CHP did issue a stern reminder that everyone should always wear seat belts.

The family is in the process of making funeral arrangements and is asking the community to pitch in to help pay for three services. 

In the end, the relatives never made it to say goodbye to the family matriarch. 

She died earlier that morning, hours before her daughter and caravan of relatives got into the fatal car accident. 

"Just be careful on the road," Angelina Hernandez said. "Drive safe, wear seat belts. Please make sure everybody's buckled in before you leave."