Tears rolled down Dalia Ruiz’s face Wednesday as she sat at the graves of her two granddaughters, killed last year when their mother’s car careened off the road on the way to school and plunged into the Petaluma River.
The gut-wrenching deaths of Delilah, 9, and Sayra Gonzalez, 7, were only the start of what has become an ongoing tragedy for Ruiz and her family. Her daughter, Alejandra Hernandez-Ruiz, 27, of Rohnert Park, was arrested last week and charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, child endangerment and driving on a suspended license. She faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted.
The prosecution comes as Hernandez-Ruiz is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for aggressive cervical cancer diagnosed about five months ago, but made public only Wednesday during a court appearance.
Ruiz, who visits her granddaughters’ graves at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Santa Rosa almost daily, said “there is no more punishment than losing your kids,” in Spanish as she looked down at the side-by-side plots adorned with fresh flowers and personal tokens. “Alejandra was a good mother. She always wanted to give the best to her daughters.”
Earlier in the day, she and dozens of family members packed a Santa Rosa courtroom to see Hernandez-Ruiz, who has been held on $500,000 bail since Friday.
Among the concerns was that she was not receiving pain medication and antibiotics, and would not be allowed to go to a previously scheduled radiation treatment in San Francisco.
Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite confirmed deputies were planning to escort her to the appointment and were giving her the prescribed drugs.
The judge said she would hear from a doctor Friday to decide if the onetime Rancho Cotate High School student should remain free for the remainder of her criminal proceedings, in part to undergo continued treatment and surgery.
“If we can save this woman’s life, at least what’s left of it, then that’s what we have to do,” said her lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger.
The Aug. 31, 2016, crash occurred as Hernandez-Ruiz was driving her daughters to school.
She had just dropped off their father, Edwin Gonzalez, at his job in Petaluma and was headed up Petaluma Boulevard North when the CHP said she drifted into the median, overcorrected and crashed down an embankment into a narrow stretch of the river near Petaluma Village Premium Outlets.
The car overturned and sank in 6 feet of water. Hernandez-Ruiz was able to get out but her daughters could not, remaining strapped in their seat belts. Police officers and firefighters arrived within minutes, diving in attempting to rescue them, but could not.
A CHP spokesman said Hernandez-Ruiz told investigators she had been cut off in traffic.
The crash followed one a week earlier in which two sisters were killed after their mother lost control of the family pickup on a wet road and plunged into the Russian River near Jenner. It was investigated and deemed accidental.
Prosecutors would not explain why they charged Hernandez-Ruiz, saying only that it was “the totality of her conduct while driving.” However, some details could emerge at Friday’s hearing where prosecutor Laura Passaglia is expected to argue against releasing her.