SANTA ANA – Family and friends of a 5-year-old girl struck and killed by a car Saturday morning hosted a car wash Sunday to benefit the girl’s family, raising hundreds of dollars even as the girl’s mother and sister remained in critical condition.
Osmara Meza was crossing a marked intersection Saturday morning in Santa Ana with her mother and sister when a speeding driver plowed through a red light about 60 mph and hit all three, police said. The driver, Jessica Louise Cowan, fled the scene, but was arrested a few blocks away after a witness chased and cornered her, police said.
Meza’s mother and sister, identified by family members as 45-year-old Eloisa Madrigal and 6-year-old Grecia Meza, remained in critical condition Sunday at a nearby hospital.
“It’s amazing that so many people have come out today to help the family,” Madrigal’s cousin-in-law, Gladys Pizana, said of Sunday’s car wash. “We are so grateful to have so much support during such a tough time.”
Cowan, 33, failed a field sobriety test and was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run, felony driving under the influence and manslaughter charges, police said. Cowan’s driver’s license lists her residence as Frazier Park, near Bakersfield, police said.
Cowan was set to be arraigned Tuesday.
Madrigal, whose condition was described as “extremely critical,” experienced head trauma. Osmara’s older sister, Grecia, also suffered head trauma and was in critical condition but was expected to survive, police said.
On Sunday, family and friends stopped by a makeshift memorial on a sidewalk near the scene of the crash to pay their respects.
“It’s just so unbelievable,” said Tania Montanez, a cousin of the two young victims. “One minute, you’re living your life. The next minute, everything changes forever.”
Family members said Madrigal and her two daughters were walking from their apartment on Spurgeon Street to a restaurant across 17th Street for a late breakfast on Saturday.
As they crossed an intersection at 17th and Spurgeon, police say Cowan – traveling westbound on 17th in a silver Lexus – blew through a red light about 11 a.m. and hit all three family members.
Cowan’s car either threw or dragged the bodies about 70 feet, police said.
Cowan continued driving, but a woman who witnessed the collision followed her about two blocks, and then cut her off and trapped her at 17th and Main streets, said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
“Had this lady not had done this, we wouldn’t have this person in custody,” Bertagna said of the witness, who reportedly lives in the neighborhood but was not immediately identified. “We think she’s a hero. Who knows how many more people this woman would have hit?”
Cowan failed her field sobriety test at the scene, and a container of marijuana was found on her dashboard, Bertagna said.
Bertagna said police will push for more serious charges in the case because of the nature of the accident and because police believe the suspect understood the consequences of drinking and driving.
“She doesn’t have any prior convictions, but based on her history and possible connection with a substance-abuse problem, that will be presented as part of the case to the District Attorney’s Office,” Bertagna said.
Bertagna added police also were investigating whether Cowan may have been text-messaging in the moments leading up to the crash.
Cowan was being held at the Central Women’s Jail in Santa Ana in lieu of $250,000 bail, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department online records. Booking information described her as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, 128 pounds with blonde hair and hazel eyes. Her occupation was listed as a banker.
As news of the fatal collision spread in Osmara’s Santa Ana neighborhood, neighbors turned their sadness into action, organizing Sunday’s car wash in a parking lot near the scene of the collision.
Neighbor Cecilia Baltazar grabbed some buckets and soap at 6 a.m., and started knocking on doors around the neighborhood asking for volunteers.
“This is the least I can do,” she said. “I have a daughter of my own. I can’t imagine what this family is going through right now.”
Neighbor Jose Abarca, who remembers seeing the two girls playing around the neighborhood, brought his pickup to the car wash.
“I just wanted to help the family any way I could,” he said. “Everyone in this neighborhood always tries to take care of each other. That’s why you’re seeing all this support.”
By Sunday, the makeshift memorial near the scene of the crash was filled with more than a dozen flower bouquets, plus stuffed animals, candles, photos and handwritten notes.
One note read: “Dear cousin Osmara, I miss you a lot. I can’t forget when we played together and you gave me kisses. Love your cousin Daniela.”
Another handwritten note, pinned to a teddy bear and signed by third-grader Stephanie Vazquez, read: “I am going to miss you Osmara.”
–Register staff writer Lou Ponsi contributed to this report.
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