A grieving North Hills family knows that their much-loved family member is gone, but still has many questions for the operator of a party bus wondering how someone can easily fall out of the moving vehicle.
The California Highway Patrol is currently investigating that very question.
What started as a family celebration turned into a horrific nightmare last weekend. Heather Garcia, 29, who was on the bus with other family members and friends and enjoying herself, was dancing when she tripped and fell against the door of the moving bus.
The bus door swung open, and Garcia fell out onto the road and in the path of oncoming traffic traveling northbound on the Hollywood (101) Freeway.
She was hit by a vehicle, described as an Isuzu truck, in the No. 3 Lane and died at the scene.
The incident occurred at 2:55 a.m. on Saturday, Jan 29. The driver of the truck stayed at the scene and cooperated with police.
“When you hire a party bus, you expect when you pay for a service, to ensure that you’re safe — [you] don’t have to worry about drinking and driving or getting to your destination safely or doing anything illegal,” her visibly shaken husband, Rafael Corral, explained.
“You pay for the service so that someone takes you there safe, and you’re going to get back home safe.”
Corral said his wife was celebrating her niece’s birthday and she was looking forward to celebrating her own birthday coming up in a few days, on Feb.3, but now they’re planning her funeral.
“She was turning 30,” her husband said.
An Army veteran, Corral said that even his service in Iraq can’t compare to the tragic loss he’s facing now.
He wonders now how he can be both father and mother to their 5 young children. His kids range in age from 10, 8, 6, 5, and 1-year-old.
Corral started a GoFundMe page for funeral services, and the upcoming care of his children. “She did everything, she kept us tight,” he said.
“What I thought would be a fun night out for her turned into a tragic ending for us,” Corral wrote on the GoFundMe page. “She had a huge heart always lending a hand to anyone who needed it. She was a great mom always taking care of our children. She loved our kids and she lived to take care of us. She was my best friend… I feel lost without her.”
Her brother Juan Garcia said they are all asking why the door sprung open.
“I don’t know how the door opened. No one seems to know why it opened, how is that possible? It shouldn’t have opened,” Juan said.
Other family members, including Garcia’s sister, said they are having a difficult time “getting their heads around this.”
The California Highway Patrol investigation is currently focusing on the safety of the party bus.
CHP Officer Roberto Gomez said there are several questions that are under investigation, including how someone can “just fall out of a bus like that?” The cause of how a door just opens will be a primary question Gomez said.
“Operating a vehicle of this sort, the driver needs to obviously make sure everything’s in working order and figuring out that everything was in good working order at the time of the incident.”
So far, it has been learned that the small party bus was not affiliated with a large company but was registered to an individual — Edwin Torres, who lives in North Hollywood.
Torres, listed on the CHP accident report, has refused comment.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles records indicated the vehicle’s registration was set to expire this week (Wednesday, Feb 2). The listed address led back to a modest apartment building.
To contribute to the GoFundMe account set up for the family, go to: Fundraiser by Rafael Corral : Heather Garcia-Tragic accident claims mother of 5 (gofundme.com).
The CHP’s Central Los Angeles office urged anyone with information about the death to call the investigating officer, Officer Penaloza at 213 744-2331.
Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this story.