Jesus Mejia-Santana, from left, his wife Erlinda Zacarias, and Sandy Uribe comfort each other n ...

A year later, tree dedicated to 7 family members killed in crash

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Close to where Erlinda Zacarias’ children played just before the crash that took their lives, a small pine tree stands.

On Sunday, shortly after the tree was unveiled, Zacarias draped two black belts over its branches — one for her son Bryan, who was 15, and the other for her daughter Lluvia, who was 13.

The horrific North Las Vegas crash on Jan. 29, 2022 took seven members of their family. All of her kids were in karate, Zacarias said, and Bryan and Lluvia would have earned their black belts a few months later.

“It’s nice that they picked this placed to put the tree,” Zacarias said. “Hopefully this tree will be here for, I don’t know, a hundred years.”

Zacarias and her husband Jesus Mejia-Santana were joined on Sunday at Craig Ranch Park by dozens of relatives, friends, supporters and elected officials from the city of North Las Vegas to unveil the pine, which has been planted in memory of the seven family members who were killed.

Zacarias spoke, as did crash survivor Tiffani May Noel, 32, as well as North Las Vegas Mayor Pamela Goynes-Brown, councilwoman Ruth Garcia Anderson and councilman Isaac Barron.

Zacarias said her children loved playing at Craig Ranch Park, and that it was the last place they went before they were killed. And now she is happy that the tree will give her a place to come to spend some quiet time with her memories in a place where her kids loved to play.

Zacarias said was also grateful for the large turnout of people who were offering their hugs and support on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the wreck.

Goynes-Brown said she often prays for Zacarias’ well-being and for that of her family.

“Today is one year since that horrific crash that took the lives of seven members of the Zacarias family. Sweet babies. Just starting the beginning of their lives, as well as two others.” Goynes-Brown said. “Our hearts break for the people and families impacted by this terrible tragedy.”

Planted on an idyllic clearing amid older and much taller pines, the tree stands between the park’s two ponds and across from one of the playgrounds where the Zacarias children would play.

A plaque in front of the tree reads, “In honor of those lost their lives in the tragic accident on January 29, 2022 and those who have been forever impacted. You will not be forgotten.”

Noel, who was in another vehicle involved in the crash at Commerce Street and Cheyenne Avenue but who survived and who is still recovering from her injuries, spearheaded the dedication.

“From the start I’ve been wanting to do something,” she said. While she was recovering from the crash, she got the ball rolling by calling elected officials and the idea to dedicate a tree at the park came to fruition.

The seven family members who killed in the crash were Fernando Yeshua Mejia, 5; Adrian Zacarias, 10; Lluvia Daylenn Zacarias, 13; Bryan Axel Zacarias, 15; Gabriel Mejia-Barrera, 23; David Mejia-Barrera, 25; and Jose Zacarias-Caldera, 35.

The National Transportation Safety Board last week released a 300-plus page investigative report on the crash.

Gary Dean Robinson, 59, the driver who caused the collision, was driving about 103 mph in a 35 mph zone when he drove his Dodge Challenger through a red light. Toxicology reports showed high levels of cocaine and PCP, and some alcohol, in his system. He was killed, as was his passenger, Tanaga Ravel Miller, 46.

Robinson had also been ticketed at least five times for speeding since August 2020, with most reduced to parking infractions, a Review-Journal investigation found.

That night still haunts her, Noel said.

“I still hear the screams, the echoes, the cries, and I have sleepless nights. And I’m always crying,” Noel said. “I am truly grateful for my life, but it’s challenging knowing that I just celebrated my birthday five days ago — I turned 32 — but the children and the people here that we’re honoring will never be able to do that.”

Contact Brett Clarkson at Follow @BrettClarkson_ on Twitter.

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