Woman killed in crash with Lake County deputy remembered as devoted to family

Every month, Lake County vineyard worker Gabriela Rivas Garcia sent $300 or $400 to her family in Valle de Santiago, an agricultural community in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

The money was to fulfill a promise she made when she came to the United States eight years ago — to keep her younger siblings from enduring the poverty she once knew.

Thursday, instead of money, Rivas' family will receive her body in a coffin.

Rivas died the morning of Oct. 3, while headed to work at Beckstoffer Vineyards in Kelseyville. Her car was struck head-on by a Lake County sheriff's deputy who was rushing to assist another deputy in pursuit of robbery suspects.

Rivas died at the scene, on Highway 29 west of Lower Lake. She was 26.

"Her dreams were to help her family," said her uncle, Jose Garcia Pantoja, speaking in Spanish. "She said she wanted her young siblings to have a better life than what she did."

The CHP is still investigating the 6:21 a.m. crash, but said preliminary information indicates Deputy James Scott Lewis, 53, crossed into Rivas' lane at high speed, his SUV colliding head-on with her 1995 Honda Civic.

Lewis' patrol vehicle, a Chevrolet Tahoe, landed on its side and he suffered major injuries, including multiple fractures, officials said. Lewis is said to be recuperating at home after a brief hospital stay.

"He suffered some life-threatening, very serious injuries. There's no question about that," Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero said. "By the grace of God he survived.

"It's really unfortunate and sad and tragic that the woman passed away," Rivero continued. "My heart goes out to her and her family."

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