LOS ANGELES – A 72-year-old Filipino grandmother of eight was killed on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), July 28, when a car crashed into a house in Gardena, California, where she and other devout Catholics held a prayer meeting.
Elsa de Belen was pinned under the car, which police said was speeding when it jumped the curb and rammed through the fence and block wall and entered the living room.
Eleven others were injured.
The driver, Rashanda Monique Norman, 34, has been arrested for hit-and-run and could face more serious charges including vehicular manslaughter or murder, police said.
She fled the scene but later surrendered to the police. Court records show Norman had been in and out of jail for offenses ranging from drug possession to prostitution
De Belen’s best friend, physician Aida Abalos, told the INQUIRER.net she was late for the meeting and was about to enter the house when she heard what sounded “like a bomb explosion.”
“There was debris everywhere,” Abalos recalled. “I found Elsa and she wasn’t moving.”
“This is very hard for me to take. I should’ve been with her inside the house,” she said, sobbing. “I miss my best friend.”
De Belen’s husband, Renato, said he was also supposed to join the prayer meeting, but decided to go home and watch President Barack Obama’s televised speech at the Democratic National Convention.
“We were waiting at the hospital. The doctor said there was nothing they could do to save her,” he said. “It felt like my world crashed down.”
The couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
De Belen’s daughter, Renellie de Belen Gonzales, described her mother as “prayerful, selfless and loving, and with the kindest heart.”
“My mom will be missed not only by her family and friends but also the whole church community,” she said.
The family established a fund to help pay for her funeral. Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/elsadebelen.