Teresa Arriaga will remember the way her 16-year-old cousin Luis Carmona-Zepeda got $80 for his birthday and didn’t use it for himself. He spent the money on his cousins.
She’ll fondly recall that her 4-year-old cousin Angel Huerta loved superheroes. Every time she saw him, the youngster had a superhero action figure. Arriaga said he was “always so happy.”
Erika Rivas will remember how her 9-year-old cousin Denise Ramos “always had this contagious smile on her face” and that she would help her grandmother bake and decorate cakes.
The cousins of the three children killed in a two-vehicle wreck Saturday in South Hall hope friends, family and others will do the same.
“Remember them as who they were, not because of this accident,” Rivas said.
As the Gainesville family mourns the loss of the children, 17-year-old Yazmin Zepeda, the sister of Carmona-Zepeda, remained in the intensive care unit in satisfactory condition Monday afternoon at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville. Rivas said the family is asking for prayers.
“She’s the one who needs it the most,” Rivas said. “We believe God is going to heal her.”
Rivas said the wreck has been a “huge heartbreak” for the tight-knit group of cousins.
“All the kids were very close,” Arriaga said. “No matter what age they were, they were very close.”
Hipolita Huerta, 29, the mother of Ramos and Angel Huerta, was also injured in the wreck but was discharged from Northeast Georgia Medical Center on Monday. Ariel Urapo, 14, another passenger, has been released from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
Ramos “just loved doing new things,” Rivas said. The 9-year-old was always asking about everyone whenever the family got together.
“She was a very caring person, even though she was so little,” Arriaga said.
Carmona-Zepeda was on the Johnson High JV boys soccer team. His coach, Frank Zamora, recalled a young man who always wore a smile, poured his heart into practice and never complained about the drills.
“He was the kid to brighten up the day for everybody regardless of what was going on,” Zamora said. “I could be chewing the team out, and he could lighten the mood. He’s definitely going to be missed.”
Yury Zepeda, Carmona-Zepeda’s sister, in a statement to The Times spoke of her brother’s affectionate nature and how smart he was.
“He loved soccer, especially when he saw how happy it made my parents and how we all got into it with our yelling and cheering,” Yury Zepeda wrote.
Johnson varsity boys soccer coach Brian Shirley taught Carmona-Zepeda in an eighth-grade Georgia history class at South Hall Middle School. Shirley said Carmona-Zepeda was a “lighthearted kid that loved life,” worked hard and had “a contagious smile.”
“That’s why you teach is to teach kids like Luis,” Shirley said.
Shirley pointed out Carmona-Zepeda’s constant willingness to help the soccer program whenever something needed to be done. The teacher said it was easy to talk to his student and relate to him.
“That’s the type of kid you would want your family to be,” Shirley said.
Yury Zepeda expressed appreciation for the support the family has received.
“Luis was the biggest blessing our family had, and we will never ever forget how amazing he was and everything he did for us,” Yury Zepeda wrote. “He was a great influence to everyone around, and he touched the hearts of many many people. We never knew how many until now, and we are so thankful that so many people cared for our baby.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for the family.
The family received friends Tuesday at Memorial Park Funeral Home in Gainesville, and a funeral Mass is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday at St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville.
In the 9 a.m. Saturday wreck, a Ford pickup truck driven by Cory Williams, 36, of Jefferson, was traveling west on Belmont Highway/Ga. 332 when his vehicle struck a Ford Explorer driven by Zepeda as she was trying to turn left onto Belmont Highway from Talmo Road, a Georgia State Patrol report states.
The Explorer overturned before coming to rest on the driver’s side facing west, Jenkins said.
Williams didn’t have any passengers in the wreck, while Zepeda had five, a GSP report shows.
Williams was discharged from Northeast Georgia Medical Center on Saturday.
The preliminary investigation shows Zepeda failed to yield the right of way, but no charges have been filed.