Romelia Cuarenta Aguilar had arrived at Shoreline Village Saturday afternoon with a few others to watch the Long Beach Zombie Walk.
Since she was in the area, the 60-year-old went over to see her brother Juan Cuarenta Aguilar, who owns a food truck near The Pike. She brought over the condiment she’d often make for the businesses’ birria, and they caught up for a few minutes.
They then said their goodbyes, and she told him she’d see him later, Juan said.
After enjoying the event and grabbing a bite to eat, Romelia began to cross Shoreline Drive at Aquarium Way around 6:30 p.m. when police say she was struck by a speeding Uber driver who ran a red light.
Juan was still busy working with his wife at their food truck when he heard the violent crash. Curious about what had happened, he stepped away from the truck.
As he got closer to the crash scene, making his way through a crowd of onlookers, he saw Romelia: The car had hit her directly and flung her into another car, witnesses told him. She died at the scene.
“Era muy linda,” her brother Juan said: “She was very lovely.”
“Ella no tuvo que haber muerto así” he added: “She didn’t have to die like this.”
The driver accused of causing the crash, 46-year-old Los Angeles resident Khalid Yagobbi, was taken into custody on suspicion of murder. Investigators initially said they believed the crash was intentional, however they were quick to dispel rumors that the crash was connected to terrorism.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed vehicular manslaughter charges against Yagobbi, who has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors declined to explain why they passed on a murder charge, beyond saying that vehicular manslaughter was the “charge that is supported by the evidence that was presented at the time of filing.”
Meanwhile, Juan says he still believes Yagobbi crashed into his sister on purpose, citing the circumstances of the crash, and would like to see him prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“Quiero que haya justicia,” Juan said: “I want there to be justice.”
“Si sale, yo creo lo volverá a hacer,” he added: “If he’s let out, I think he’ll do it again.
Those that knew Romelia could instantly tell she was a good person and natural caretaker, Juan said.
Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, she was always hardworking, Juan recalls.
At 15, she had already gotten her first job, he said, and with the little money she made then, the siblings reaped the rewards of her generosity when she’d take them out to the circus or to the movies.
Fifteen years later, she’d make the move with some of her siblings to Long Beach in search of the “American Dream.”
Though she’d eventually get busy working and settling in to the new environment, she still always made time to be with her family.
“Ella siempre era feliz donde quiera,” Juan said. “She was always happy wherever.”
Since her death, the children in the Cuarenta Aguilar family, who’d she often help raise while their parents worked, have been incredibly distraught, Juan said.
To them, Romelia was like a mother who tied everyone together.
“Si duele bastante aunque trato de ser un poco fuerte,” he added: “Even though I try to be strong, it still hurts a lot.”
A GoFundMe has been created to help Romelia’s family pay for the costs of her funeral. It has raised $4,260 out of the $20,000 goal as of Saturday morning.