The two men watched in horror as their wives and children burned to death.
They could do nothing to save them.
At about 3:30 Tuesday morning, 34-year-old Aaron Hon Wing Ng and 45-year-old Wei Xiong Li were driving southbound down Interstate 5 in a minivan with their wives and each couple’s two children. A vacation waited at the other end of the trip for the two families from Northern California.
That vacation never happened.
They had reached the Tejon Pass, a mountain pass between the Tehachapi and the San Emigdio mountains, about 65 miles outside of Los Angeles on I-5, which is traversed by some 19,000 big rigs each day. There, at the edge of the Los Padres National Forest near a town named Gorman, they got in a minor wreck with a BMW.
Likely frustrated, they pulled over to the dark shoulder of the road to inspect the damage, but part of the unwieldy van stuck out into the highway.
Before anyone could get out, a semi-truck barreling down the road at 55 miles per hour slammed into the back of the minivan, propelling it completely off the road. It tumbled down a steep embankment with all eight passengers inside, finally coming to rest at the bottom of a grassy ravine.
The two men jumped out of the two front doors and began attempting to pry open the back doors and pull their families out. The doors wouldn’t open.
Seeing them, 60-year-old Richard Lopez, the semi-truck’s driver, leaped out of his big rig and rushed toward the scene, Reuters reported.
The minivan had caught fire by the time California Highway Patrol officers arrived, and the back doors were still jammed shut. Ng and Li ran toward Officers Dan Williams and Jeff Burdick, screaming for help.
“When we arrived on scene, we saw the van starting to catch fire,” Williams told KABC. “We saw the husbands come running up to us, told us their families were in the vehicle still.”
“My partner went and tried to get into the van door,” Williams said. “The flames came at him. He had to back out. I grabbed the fire extinguisher, and I tried to extinguish the flames. But like we said, the van burst into flames very, very quickly and we were unable to assist in getting anyone out of the van.”
Ng and Li refused to accept their families’ fate. They ran toward the minivan anyway. Ignoring the licking flames, they tried to pry the doors open, to help. The scorching metal of the van and the roaring fire burned their hands and faces, but that didn’t stop them.
It was too late.
Eventually, there was nothing else to do. The officers were forced to restrain them to keep them from further injuring themselves.
“We just held them,” Burdick told AP. “That’s all we could do.”
The two husbands, the two fathers, watched helplessly as their families perished.
“Words can’t describe what that was like when we arrived on scene,” Williams said. “It was very horrific seeing them trying to get their families out, us trying to help get their families out. Like I said, the van went up in flames very, very quickly.”
By the time the fire department reached the minivan, all six passengers — the two wives and their four children, whose names have not been released — had died.
“I can’t even describe it,” Capt. Keith Mora of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told the Los Angeles Times. “You pull up and see the victims inside — it’s heartbreaking.”
Ng and Li were airlifted to a hospital, where they are being treated for moderate injuries, the Associated Press reported. They are expected to live.
The wreck remains under investigation, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Frank Romero. The children’s ages have not been released.
SOURCE: Travis M. Andrews
The Washington Post