Newport Beach Crash Victims' Daughters 'Destroyed' by Alleged DUI Offender

Newport Beach Crash Victims' Daughters 'Destroyed' by Alleged DUI Offender
Santa Ana parents Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia and Gabriela M. Andrade were killed after the car they were riding in was hit by an impaired driver, and their three children were injured, on Dec. 8, 2020. (Courtesy Maria Corrigan)

Moments after an alleged drunk driver slammed her Range Rover into a subcompact car carrying a family of five, a young survivor made a heartbreaking effort to help her mom.

“She describes the moment when my sister was in the car,” Maria Corrigan, who lost her sister in the crash, told The Epoch Times. “She was telling her, 'Wake up, mom,' but she was telling me [later], ‘I knew my mom and dad were dead.’

“She’s destroyed. And she’s only 5 years old.”

The little girl’s parents—27-year-old Henry Saldana-Mejia and 28-year-old Gaby Andrade—were killed Dec. 8 while driving with their daughters to Newport Beach to retrieve some items from a former employer.

Their children—5-year-old Sophia, 4-year-old Elena, and 1-year-old Samantha—were dressed in pajamas for the outing. All three are being treated at Memorial Hospital.

The 7:46 p.m. crash occurred when a black Range Rover driving south on Newport Coast Drive collided with the victims’ Nissan Versa, which was turning onto Pelican Hill Road, police said.

The scene was a sharp contrast from days earlier. On Dec. 4, the family celebrated Elena’s fourth birthday. A video shows the girl blowing out a candle as her family sings and cheers her on.

She has been very quiet since the crash, Corrigan said, and suffered a skull fracture. The baby also had a fractured skull. Sophia will undergo a second surgery on her broken leg.

The girls’ parents were remarkable, said Corrigan. Their dad held two jobs to support his family, while the mom doted on their girls.

“She was an exceptional mother—very sweet with the girls,” she said. “She was a very funny sister, a very funny mother. He was a hard worker. He may not have been spending as much time with the girls, but when he had the chance, they did.”

Grace Elizabeth Coleman of Newport Beach was booked on suspicion of murder, driving under the influence (DUI), and hit-and-run resulting in death.

Coleman, 22, had been arrested in Laguna Beach Aug. 29 on suspicion of driving under the influence, but was not initially charged. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office was waiting on toxicology results to come back before the charges could be laid. She was charged Dec. 10 with driving under the influence in connection with her initial arrest.

She is still hospitalized, but once released will be held without bail until her Dec. 22 arraignment.

“This young lady took everything from me,” Corrigan said. “She took a good mother away from the girls. She was a perfect mother. She was a perfect sister. She was everything for me.”

Corrigan last saw her sister just hours before the crash. She still remembers their last meeting, and the words she said to her sister before the family headed for Newport Beach.

“I’m thankful because I saw both of them with the girls. I saw my sister and I kissed her. She looked beautiful.

“I just said to her, ‘Drive safe.’”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to support the victims’ family.
Michelle Thompson is an editor and reporter based in Orange County, California. Her award-winning work has appeared in numerous major Canadian daily newspapers, as well as multiple U.S. publications.