A San Clemente man killed when a truck struck him as he walked with his daughter in a grocery store parking lot Friday leaves behind three children and a wife struggling to comprehend their futures.
But the death of Paul Michelena also leaves the community to wonder how such a routine act as going to the store could end in death.
“People go to the store all the time. It’s an everyday thing,” said Suzanne Lippert of San Clemente. “You have no idea your life can be over in literally three seconds.”
Orange County sheriff’s officials say a Ford F-150 pickup hit Michelena, a 46-year-old computer administrator, as he walked out of the Ralphs store with his 11-year-old daughter, Chani.
An investigation is continuing, sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said Monday, but the driver hasn’t been arrested and is cooperating with detectives.
The driver had stopped and exited the truck before he realized he had run over a person, Lippert said. He had to get back inside and move the truck before Michelena could be freed.
By that time, it was too late, said Michelena’s wife, Lisa.
Lisa Michelena said another pedestrian pushed Chani out of the truck’s path, and she escaped unharmed.
Chani visited the parking lot Monday morning with her mother to see a memorial set up for her father.
“I’m proud of her. She’s a trouper,” Lisa Michelena said. “I was afraid she would never go there again.”
Lippert said she was at a checkout line inside the supermarket at 903 S. El Camino Real about 4:45 p.m. Friday when people ran into the store yelling for someone to call 911. Witnesses told shoppers to keep children away from the parking lot, Lippert said.
Lippert said she looked outside and saw a body under the front tire of a truck.
“I knew then I didn’t want to look at it any further,” she said. She said her husband, a Marine, rushed to the truck and saw Michelena’s head lodged under the tire.
Ralphs opened a remodeled and expanded store at the location in 2012, replacing a smaller building that had been there since 1963. The new store included a reconfigured parking lot with more spaces and a walkway.
But Lippert described the lot as cramped and said motorists and pedestrians often ignore designated paths and fail to stop when needed.
A store manager directed questions from the Register to a corporate spokeswoman, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Paul Michelena grew up in Costa Mesa and graduated from high school there. He enjoyed computers and worked as a network administrator, describing himself on his Twitter page as a “typical laid-back computer weenie from SoCal.”
He and Lisa married at Casa Romantica and had lived in San Clemente for several years.
Chani is a student at Shorecliffs Middle School in San Clemente. The couple also have a 14-year-old son, Jean-Luke, and a 16-year-old daughter, Frankie, who are students at San Clemente High School.
Relatives of Paul Michelena are traveling to Southern California, and memorial plans haven’t been finalized. The family hopes to create a donation fund to help with expenses.
“We’re pretty shocked and devastated still,” Lisa Michelena said. “I can’t believe this is my life now.”
By MEGHANN M. CUNIFF / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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