A crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $9,000 in six days for the family of a mother who was killed in a Mother's Day crash in Laguna Canyon that her children, ages 4 and 8, were able to walk away from with only minor injuries.
"Sandra was a beautiful person all around," reads the funding pitch posted by her family and friends on GoFundMe. "She was a great and loving mother; a devoted wife; a caring sister; lastly, a wonderful friend. Sandra always thought of others before herself. Her loss is really devastating to us all, and her presence here will be missed forever!"
The 31-year-old Mission Viejo resident's black Toyota Corolla collided with a Honda Pilot traveling in the opposite direction on El Toro Road in Laguna Canyon just before 12:30 a.m. on May 10, which was Mother's Day. The Pilot spun out and landed in brush off the roadway.
Steve Bramucci and Niki Nilchian drove up on "a wrecked, smoking car shrouded in fog."
"We slowed down and it dawned on us that we were the first people on the scene," Bramucci writes on his Facebook page. "I rolled down my window and heard children's voices calling out from inside the car."
As first responders worked for more than half an hour to remove Maldonado and Pilot driver Manuel Daza Mercado out of their respective mangled vehicles, Bramucci and Nilchian watched over the mother's shaken children in the couple's own car. The big sister and little boy "were brave, clever, fiercely protective of one another, and full of love for each other and their mom," Bramucci writes.
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Sadly, she passed away at 2:10 that morning at Mission Hospital, where she had been taken along with 86-year-old Mercado, who was accompanied by his uninjured wife. The Laguna Woods resident died about 18 hours after the crash. Maldonado's children were taken to Western Medical Center, where they were treated and released.
Bramucci and Nilchian are now spreading the word about the online funding campaigns for Maldonado's family. The GoFundMe effort aims to raise $35,000 for funeral expenses and support for Maldonado's children. The Laguna Police Employee's Association is also raising money for a savings bond scholarship for the kids. (Donate at https://www.policedonations.com/donate/?fA=LBPEA15SR with the memo "MALDONADO.")
Neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to be a factor in the accident, according to the Laguna Beach Police Department.