Family seeks accountability for bridge deaths in Mexico

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by By LORENA FLORES Al Da lflores@aldiatx.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:22 AM

A little more than a month ago, Adriana Chagoya Njera moved into the mobile home near Red Oak where her daughter, Olga Rey, and her family used to live.

MICHAEL AINSWORTH/DMN
Adriana Chagoya Njera (shown with her husband, Jesse Chagoya) was the only survivor of a November accident at the Conchos River in Mexico.

She said she feels better there, surrounded by memories of the loved ones she lost in the early hours of Nov. 27 in a car accident in Mexico that almost claimed her life.

"I pretend that my daughter just went out for a trip and that I have to wait for her to come back," Chagoya said, tears streaming down her face.

In a recent interview with Al Da, Chagoya spoke about the Thanksgiving trip that claimed the lives of her daughter; her son-in-law, Carlos Rey; her son-in-law's niece, Kaylinn Ortiz; her daughter's mother-in-law, Margarita Madrid; and her grandchildren Daniela Rey, Gael Rey and David Lpez.

All were riding in an SUV that plummeted from a collapsed bridge over the Conchos River south of Ojinaga, Chihuahua. Chagoya was the sole survivor.

Mexican authorities confirmed that there were no signs warning drivers about the broken bridge, and the federal government said it would investigate.

The victims' families have said they plan to file a lawsuit.

"I don't want this to be left unpunished because these weren't just dogs who died. They killed my whole family in a matter of seconds," said Chagoya, 51.

Oscar Nieto, an official representing the Chihuahua state government, was in Dallas last month to meet with the families of the deceased, and he told them he would have information about the investigation in "about 10 to 11 days."

But he hasn't reported back.

"We're still waiting. We're a few days from getting some news" as promised, said No Hernndez, a spokesperson for the victims' families, who said he has contacted attorneys.

Meanwhile, Chagoya tries to adjust to a new routine without a big part of her family.

Physically, she said, she is managing. But emotionally, she's devastated.

"[Doctors] said I'm fine, but I often have headaches ... at times I run fever. Sometimes, if I sit for too long, my leg weakens, and I lose strength in my arm," she said. "I need to go see a doctor because I think what's happening to me isn't normal. ... In the past, I could remember everything. Not anymore."

Her family now consists of her husband, Jesse Chagoya, their daughters Vernica and Alejandra, and her 2-year-old granddaughter, Jocelyn.

"There are times I'd like to go out screaming [into the street] that my family is gone ... that they drowned," she said.

There was no warning

Chagoya says that her daughter Olga and son-in-law Carlos traveled about once a year to El Mezquite, a small town south of Ojinaga, where Carlos' grandmother lives.

Her daughter had told her that people there cook on wood-burning stoves, the kind Chagoya dreamed of installing in her home.

That was one reason she was traveling with them, so she could bring back a wood-burning stove.

Before they set out, Carlos put new tires on the vehicle. As a former trucker, he was extremely safety-conscious, she said.

"We were all in a good mood. We never imagined [what was about to happen]," Chagoya said.

Olga was reading the Bible and the other adults were chatting and listening to Christian music while the children napped, she said. Margarita, her daughter's mother-in-law, took a pill and fell asleep.

Behind them followed a second SUV from Dallas carrying Carlos' sister Marina, her husband, and one of their teenage children.

Everything was fine until the vehicles approached the bridge over the Conchos River.

Thunderstorms in September and October had swept through the Ojinaga area, damaging the structure. And authorities decided to demolish the bridge because it was threatening to become a dam with mud, tree branches and trash stuck under it.

But there were no signs to warn motorists of the danger ahead, and the family was not aware of the bridge damage, Chagoya said.

After her son-in-law drove his SUV onto the bridge, she said she felt as if the vehicle was going through a puddle or a ford at first.

It wasn't until the vehicle began to sink that she realized the severity of the situation, she said.

As tears ran down her face, she paused, then continued the story, skipping the most painful part.

She was rescued by Marina's husband and his teenage son.

"They helped me to get into the truck," she said. After she told them where Margarita was, "they laid her over my lap to see whether she was still alive," Chagoya recalled. "All other help arrived too late."

Chagoya can't say for sure what happened after that. She knows she was taken to a hospital, but she doesn't know by whom. And she doesn't remember who took her to her son-in-law's grandmother's house later.

A senseless loss

"What's gone is gone," Chagoya said. "All the gold in the world won't get back what [those in charge of the bridge] killed."

Chagoya said her son-in-law had no way of knowing what had happened to the bridge.

"The mistake began as we crossed [the border]," where officials asked their destination, she said. "If they had taken a second to say that there was a bridge out down there, then he would have known. And that's where the accountability begins because Ojinaga is a very small town, and everybody knew."

Inside her daughter's house, Chagoya recalled how happy Olga was with Carlos.

"They were always joking. They loved to travel. When my son-in-law drove trailers, he took her along," she said.

Her grandchildren, Daniela - whom Adriana called 'Princess' - her little brother Gael, and the other grandchild, David, are remembered often by their family.

"Daniela and David were always together. I always had to take them both places," Chagoya said.

No sum of money can bring back her loved ones, she said. But she wants the guilty parties to assume responsibility so no other family experiences a similar tragedy.

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