Richmond community mourns brother, 10, and sister, 13, who died in crash

A remembrance was held in Richmond Wednesday evening for two siblings killed in a car crash over the weekend.

About 400 people filled the playground at Richmond College Prep, a public charter school on Florida Avenue. 

The crowd wore white and held white balloons and candles to honor Citlalli Contreras,13, and her brother Jesse, 10. 

Seated in the front row at the vigil, the children's parents Jose and Maria, both 38, and surviving sibling, Diego,12. 

"What do you say to them, there are no words, how do you console them ?" asked head of school Peppina Liano. "I'm saying to other parents, tell your kids that you love them, because tomorrow is just a promise, for everybody."

The fatal crash occurred Saturday about 10 a.m., as Maria drove the family's SUV south on Interstate-5
in Kern County. They were headed to Southern California to see relatives. 

The CHP in Buttonwillow says the Honda drifted into the center divide and Maria over-corrected, losing control and rolling the vehicle. No other cars were involved. The children's grandmother survived with serious injuries. The parents and son Diego were uninjured. 

All were wearing seat belts except for the two children who died and were ejected from the car. 

Jesse died at the scene, and Citlalli, after being airlifted to a hospital. 

People at the childrens' school consider the Contreras very conscientious parents, and wonder if
the siblings took off their seat belts to sleep on the long ride. 

"We don't understand how it happened," said Liano, "but we're here together, and we want to show the parents how much we really love them."

At the vigil, the crowd was comforted by songs and prayer.

Both Jesse and Citlalli had been enrolled since preschool, and were involved in many activities, including soccer. 

"Whatever feelings you are feeling, you are not by yourself, you are not alone," said one speaker. 

In Citlalli's classroom, her desk is covered with notes, flowers, and a favorite candy. She was a class leader who wanted to go to Harvard University one day. 

Students are learning how fragile life is. 

"They've been saying they were just talking to her on Friday about her trip," said 8th grade teacher  
Jasmine McKinney. "And they said 'see you on Monday', so that really hit them hard, that you just never  know."  

In Jesse's 5th grade room, classmates are processing their grief by feeling his presence. 

"When we work on something, they'll take his notebook out and say Jesse's working," said teacher Taylor Vogt, "and they save a spot for him when we have circle time."

It's only the third week of school, with kids settling in, then suddenly confronting this loss. 

One heartfelt note to Jesse had the heading: "I wish they didn't go." 

"They're not forgetting him, we're not forgetting him, they feel he's not really gone, and I think that's really special," said Vogt.   

The vigil concluded with children sharing the microphone, and memories of the beloved siblings.   

Bereaved brother Diego is also a student at Richmond College Prep, and students plan to support him, even as they console each other. 

"I told them you want to cry? Cry. You want to go home? Go home. You want to run around the playground ? Do that," said Liano, "and embrace each other."  

The CHP notes there have been three fatal crashes on the same stretch of I-5 this month involving drivers from the Bay Area: Fremont, San Francisco, and now Richmond.  

In each case, they were solo rollovers, and in each case occupants who wore seatbelts survived, and those who did not, died. 

The Contreras children are the third and fourth deaths from the Bay Area on that section of interstate in August. 

The school has established a GoFundMe account to help the family with burial expenses.