Suspected DUI driver in fatal Sonoma Valley crash, Santa Rosa man arrested

A Boyes Hot Springs woman died and a 7-year-old girl was fighting for her life in a Bay Area hospital after a suspected drunken driver in a pickup crossed into the opposite lane and smashed head on into their car Tuesday morning in Agua Caliente, according to the CHP.

Estefania Soto, 27, died in the 7:45 a.m. crash on Highway 12. The girl, a Sonoma Valley second-grader, was riding in a pink booster seat in the back of Soto’s Nissan Sentra. She suffered life-threatening injuries and apparently wasn’t breathing when bystanders pulled her out of the car, according to authorities.

The group laid her on the ground and started CPR, possibly saving her life, said Sonoma Valley Fire Chief Steve Akre.

“What they did was truly heroic. It made a huge impact on the outcome and gave (the 7-year-old) a chance to live,” Akre said.

The driver of the pickup, Jose Manuel Lopez-Perez, 25, of Santa Rosa also was saved by bystanders, who pulled him from his burning 2004 Ford truck.

CHP officers later arrested Lopez-Perez on suspicion of driving under the influence but he remained hospitalized because of his injuries, said CHP Officer Marc Renspurger.

Both the pickup driver and the little girl were taken by ambulances to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. The girl was later flown to Children’s Hospital Oakland, Renspurger said.

Fire officials thought it likely that Soto and the girl were mother and daughter and that the girl was being taken to school. Sonoma Valley firefighters found schoolwork for the child in the car, said Battalion Chief John Franceschi. But fire and CHP officials said they could not confirm late Tuesday if the pair were related or where they’d been headed.

The girl’s name wasn’t released, but she was identified as a Boyes Hot Springs second-grader.

The crash happened at rush hour on the two-lane highway near London Way.

Agua Caliente resident Lewise Salvadori said her husband was outside and heard the crash.

“He said ‘Lewise there’s a horrible accident,’” she said.

She walked out to see what had happened and saw the burned truck, the wrecked sedan and several fire and CHP vehicles.

“It’s just horrific and a child is involved,” Salvadori said.

The CHP closed that stretch of the valley’s main route for almost four hours as investigators took measurements and photos and documented the collision. Drivers were diverted to Madrone and Agua Caliente roads. Lopez-Perez had been heading west and witnesses told the CHP they’d seen the truck moving over solid double yellow lines into the eastbound lane to pass other vehicles prior to hitting the Sentra, Renspurger said.

The pickup hit the front of Soto’s car, collapsing the smaller vehicle’s front end. The two vehicles separated to opposite sides of the roadway and the truck may have rolled and immediately caught fire, Franceschi said. Sonoma Valley firefighters were on duty at the Agua Caliente station some 400 feet away and arrived quickly to find the truck engulfed in flames and the driver out. The highway was littered with wreckage, and rescuers, including a man in a security uniform and a Cal Fire firefighter, were already performing CPR on the little girl, Franceschi said. Retired Sonoma Fire Chief Mike Cahill also was passing at the time and stopped to help, Franceschi said.

Firefighters put out flames in the pickup and aided paramedics with the victims. The crash was a difficult scene for firefighters still drained from the devastating wildfires, Franceschi said. First responders who’d gone to the call met Tuesday afternoon for a mental health debriefing.

“It was just one of those we don’t want to go to again,” Franceschi said.

The Sonoma Valley crash is the second fatal head-on collision in less than two weeks in Sonoma County involving a suspected drunken driver illegally passing on a two-lane highway.

At about 9:15 p.m on Nov. 5, Logo Tevaseu, 35, of Santa Rosa was crossing double yellow lines to illegally pass vehicles on Lakeville Highway when he smashed into a sedan driven by Paulette Quiba, a Sonoma State University junior, according to the CHP.

The 21-year-old business student died in the impact. CHP officers arrested Tevaseu on suspicion of murder, saying he was intoxicated and had a prior DUI conviction.

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