Last week the Iniguez family was getting ready to celebrate the family patriarch’s 83rd birthday on Aug. 25.
But instead, they ended up holding a funeral for Luis Iniguez.
An energetic senior who loved to ride his bicycle, Iniguez was run over by not one, but several vehicles in the early morning of Aug. 20 before another motorist passing by on the opposite side of the road called 9-1-1.
Iniguez was found dead around 6 a.m. on the 9800 block of San Fernando Road, near Branford Street, in Pacoima. Police investigators have not yet made an arrest or provided a full description of a vehicle suspected of causing the fatality.
Because of his level of fitness, the fact he was riding a bicycle and he had a bag of empty cans for recycling, authorities initially identified Iniguez as someone about age 50 and presumably homeless, which only added to the confusion and the delay in his family learning about the tragedy.
Beatriz Zaragoza, his oldest granddaughter, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that Iniguez was “very healthy” except for some problems he had with his sight and hearing.
“He was very active. He had been riding his bicycle for 34 years,” Zaragoza said. “Even though he drove, it was his way of transportation.”
She said it was not unusual for him to ride from Venice to North Hollywood, or to South Central.
“He could easily ride his bike for 20 miles,” Zaragoza said.
Iniguez had been separated from his wife for several years and, because he no longer worked, was living with one of his sons in North Hollywood.
He often went out on any one of his five bicycles — all of which he had found and refurbished on his own — to collect cans to sell for recycling.
“He was always very independent,” his granddaughter said.
The last time the family saw Iniguez was Aug. 19, at around 4 p.m., when he got on his bike and decided to go for a ride.
Nobody thought much of it until it got dark and he hadn’t come back.
That’s when they turned to social media to ask for help. Some people said they had seen him, but couldn’t provide more information.
Zaragoza said Iniguez’s whereabouts after he left the house are still a mystery.
“We don’t know what happened. We think maybe he was looking for his recycling, got too far and got lost,” she said.
On Aug. 20, Zaragoza filled out a missing person’s report with police and started calling homeless shelters, hospitals and even the morgue asking for anyone — including “John Does” — who fit her grandfather’s description. But it was to no avail.
Later that day, she found a news article from Pacoima about a hit-and-run accident.
“Right away it didn’t really click because they said the (victim) was a 50-year-old,” she said.
But then she saw pictures of the accident, and saw a bike. Zaragoza started connecting the dots, and remembered that San Fernando Road was one of the streets her grandfather would often ride along while looking for cans.
The area where Iniguez was killed is about 3.5 miles from where her grandfather lived in North Hollywood.
Zaragoza called the morgue and police again, but the investigators had gone home for the day.
It wasn’t until Aug. 22, when someone from the Coroner’s office finally responded to her several voicemails and started describing the victim of the crash, that his death started to dawn on her.
Iniguez’s identity was confirmed when Zaragoza sent photos of her grandfather to the Coroner’s office and it sent her pictures of the bike found next to the body.
She finally told the family and they all headed to the morgue.
“I saw a couple of pictures and I couldn’t handle it,” said Zaragoza, recalling the state of the body.
Ran over by several vehicles
It seems Iniguez was not only struck by the car that hit him initially, but also by several other vehicles. Other media reports said Iniguez had been struck as many as 11 times, but the police report only stated that “the victim struck by more than one vehicle.” Iniguez’s family members could not confirm a total number of times he was hit.
“A lot of other cars ran over my grandpa. The amount of damage that he has, it had to be at least 3-4 vehicles,” Zaragoza said. “We don’t know how many cars ran over him. We don’t know how long he was on the ground.
“None of the vehicles stopped,” she added.
Authorities believe Iniguez may have been walking with his bike at the time of the accident. Investigators are looking for a car with a missing passenger sideview mirror, pieces of which were left all over the road in the area of the crash.
Zaragoza said the person who called 9-1-1 was driving on the other side of the road and saw two cars run over what she thought was a “bundle,”, so she slowed down. Upon closer inspection the driver realized “it was an arm” coming out of the bundle.
He was dragged between 60-100 feet.
Iniguez’ body was “in a flattened state,” Zaragoza said. “His skull was crushed and missing. Every bone in his body was broken.
“The coroner didn’t even let us see the body to save us the trauma.”
Due to the extensive damage to his body, the family couldn’t have a funeral with an open casket. Instead Iniguez was cremated, which didn’t sit very well with several family members, Zaragoza notes.
“We know it was still dark at that time. It could have happened between 5:30 and 6 a.m. We understand that some vehicles did not see him,” she admits, noting that her grandfather was also a short, slight man who measured about 4’6” in height and weighed about 90 pounds.
“But we know that the person who hit him first knew what happened,” she emphasizes.
Zaragoza said that police didn’t get back to them until the morning of Aug. 22, and that was only after she asked for help from her local police station in Boyle Heights.
“They thought he was a going to be a John Doe. It was a closed case for them. The coroner thought he wasn’t going to be claimed. He was listed as a John Doe,” she said.
Seeking the Public’s Help
The family is asking for and hoping that someone who passed by the area that morning comes forward and tells them anything that could lead to the arrest of whoever ran over Iniguez, and didn’t stop to provide aid or call for help.
They are also hoping that any cameras in the intersections nearby may have recorded any car with a missing sideview mirror.
“It wasn’t just one vehicle, it was several vehicles. Somebody must have seen something,” Zaragoza said. “We know it’s going to be hard for that person to be identified and come forward. But any of the other persons, they have to live with that.
“We want people to know that he was a person, he deserved compassion. People can speak up and call 9-1-1 when they see something or stop to give help. Even if we’re not able to get justice or that person is not identified, we want to make a change in that respective for people to make a call when they see something.”
For now, the family is hurting, missing an easygoing man who didn’t like chismes (gossip) or negativity, who came from his native Jalisco, Mexico in the late 70s and lived in the area of Venice for several years before moving to the Valley. A man who was well liked by neighbors, with plenty of friends, and loved by his family.
Luis Iniguez is survived by 11 children, more than 30 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.
Anyone with information on the case is urged to call (877) LAPD-247.