Life and Life Only

A Story Behind the Story: Paul Romero – Doing (Almost) Everything Right

A week before Easter there was a horrific car crash on a residential street in La Habra, California
. The wreck was bad enough that it was in the news in Orange and LA Counties for a couple of days running.

Stories such as this one are the staples of local news coverage, and often lead the nightly broadcast. Yet, in most cases, they are mentioned in broad strokes by somber-faced TV reporters, then they pretty much vanish.

As it happens though, my brother Phil and his wife, who live in Orange County, were quite close to several of the people involved in the La Habra crash, and so felt impelled to write a humanizing story-behind-the story for some of the OC news outlets.

When the news is personal to you, you want to slow the vanishing.

You’ll find the story below.


by Phil Fremon

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant,” wrote Joan Didion in dealing with the loss of her husband.

When Paul Romero and his longtime girlfriend, Destiny Mendoza, plus Paul’s sister, Rochelle Romero, and Rochelle’s boyfriend, Jimmy Gonzales, left home Saturday night, April 16th, to celebrate Jimmy’s 21st birthday, they had no inkling that a catastrophic change was a few hours ahead of them. The foursome tried to do everything right. They agreed to make sure they had a safe ride home from Duffy’s, a local pub located on Imperial Highway, where they would be celebrating. Duffy’s is only 1.3 miles away from the La Habra apartment building where both couples lived. The plan was to text Paul and Rochelle’s younger sister Rosalyn for a ride home when everybody was ready to call it a night.

However, just before the foursome was about to send a text message for a ride home, David Huizar, Jr., and his wife, Delora Bravo, neighbors from their same apartment complex, arrived at Duffy’s on the way home from a party that they had attended elsewhere. Wishing to save their sister the trouble of leaving home to pick them up, the group caught a ride with David and Delora instead.

I met Paul Romero eighteen years ago when I came home from work one evening to find a seven-year-old Paul on the doorstep of my Fullerton home. His family had moved next door a few days earlier. With no preamble, the boy asked in a clear voice, wearing the enormous smile that I would come to know was nearly always on his face, “Do you have any jobs for me to do so that I can earn some money?” I dutifully found a large planter in the backyard that needed tending. The “tending” went on for several days until I came home to find my young peach tree chopped down to a stump, a victim of Paul’s enthusiasm to really clean the planter. I did not have the heart to tell the proud boy of my horror at finding my peach tree gone. I wish I could laugh with him now about that long ago day, but I will never get the chance.

Despite the loss of the fruit tree, the relationship continued. Paul was ten when, in January 1996, he and his six-year-old sister, Rochelle, and nine-year-old sister, Roxanne, as close to her brother as a twin, witnessed with fascination as I carried my new bride in full wedding regalia across the threshold of my 1950’s three-bedroom L-shaped house that faced theirs. As the years passed, one or more of the three Romeros would burst in our front door nearly every day to show us something they had made in school, request help with some homework assignment, make crafts or just come over to visit. My wife quickly became as attached to the kids as I was and often tutored Paul in whatever school subject was giving him trouble.

The six young men and women walked out of Duffy’s about half past midnight and piled into the late-model black double-cab Chevy Colorado pickup truck. Sixty-seconds later, everything changed.

For reasons that may never be known, David began driving so fast that it terrified the others. Rochelle and Destiny remember screaming at David, “Slow down! We have Children!” David lost control of the truck just a half mile up Walnut. Upon hearing the screech of tires and a loud boom, startled residents rushed from their houses to help. When paramedics arrived a few minutes later, they found the truck’s cab wrapped around a roadside tree.

In the summer of 2001 we took Paul, then 15, and Roxanne, 14, to our family cabin in Glacier Park, Montana, where they had a string of brand-new experiences: they rode horses, white-water rafted, canoed down a river, chased mountain goats and hung out with my 80-year-old mother, Liz, who happily fussed over them as if they were her own grandchildren. In 2006 we shared his joy when Paul and Destiny brought a beautiful baby girl into the world, whom they named Emery. Similarly, we were excited for him when he found a job as a salesman with Mullahey Chevrolet in Fullerton in February of 2008. The young man with the enormous smile and the willing attitude quickly endeared himself to both staff and customers. Just four months ago Paul was promoted to sales manager.

We got the call from Roxanne on Sunday afternoon. She was only able to say my name several times, sobbing, until her grandma took the phone from her to tell us Paul had died. At first we were simply in shock. Later, as we thought more clearly, we searched for news of the crash on the Internet and discovered that Rochelle was in critical condition, as was Destiny. It was not certain that they would survive. Jimmy, the birthday boy and father of Rochelle’s child-to-be, was dead too, as was David and his wife, leaving behind their two children. We drove to UCI Medical Center where our own pain and loss was dwarfed by the soul-wrenching agony we saw in the eyes of Roxanne and the rest of the Romero family, whose lives were irrevocably shattered.

Now that more than a week has passed, Rochelle is off the critical list, as is her unborn baby. She has a badly injured spine, various broken bones, and must now piece together a life that includes the loss of her boyfriend and her brother.

Thursday afternoon, Destiny Mendoza, who has undergone multiple risky spinal surgeries, was finally told, along with five-year-old Emery, that Paul is gone. Destiny, still frighteningly weak, replied to her distraught family. “Yes, I know. Paul told me in a dream everything that happened.”

Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.

POST SCRIPT: Rose Hills Mortuary has opened a fund to help Paul’s family with the burial costs, and can accept credit card payments. Phone: (562) 692-1212, ext. 5207, Funeral #212813, Paul Romero, Jr. Rose Hills will stop accepting donations when Paul’s burial costs are covered. Mullahey Chevrolet and staff have donated a sizable amount to help Paul’s family and are collecting donations for Paul Romero’s family at 600 West Commonwealth Ave. Fullerton, CA 92832.

EDITOR’S POST SCRIPT: Tuesday night Phil received word that, despite earlier optimistic prognostications, Paul’s younger sister Rochelle has lost her baby after all.

NOTE: Paul is at the center of the Romero family photo above, Destiny is just to his right. Emery, their daughter is being held by her aunt Raelyn.

The photo was taken in 2010 at Roxanne’s graduation from Coast Community College. She has just been accepted as a transfer student to Cal State Fullerton, the first of her family to go to college.


  • After hearing about all of this earlier today I am in disbelief and shock. I met Paul about a year ago at Mullahey Chevrolet. I called him about a truck and I met him up there late at night right before closing. The only reason I bought the truck was because Paul helped me out and stayed with me afterhours to fill out all the paperwork because I didn’t want anyone else to buy that truck. Meanwhile he had his family outside waiting in the car for him. I told him we could do the paperwork tomorrow and he says, “No, it’s ok I will tell them to hold on a minute, we will get you this truck tonight and you can drive home with it.” I was really amazed at Paul’s personality and his cheek to cheek smile he had. We became friends from that point on and I would stop in here and there to bullshit and laugh with him. He treated me and my girlfriend as if we were best friends. I invited him on a couple fishing trips but he could never make it. I’m at a loss of words for Paul and Destiny’s Family and Friends and child. I myself am very sad over this loss and I hope Destiny and Emery a huge blessing of recovery and faith. For Paul, may you rest in peace my brother and thank you for the laughs we have shared. One day we will have that “Drink” you were always talking about…. God Bless All of You

    -Mike Martinez

  • Very moving account of this tragic event and the way that the term ‘victims’ extend beyond those who were injured or died. I do, however, have to take exception with “For reasons that may never be known, David began driving so fast that it terrified the others.”

    In my experience, the “reason” is stupidity – either because of machismo or alcohol or both. This is a tragedy on multiple levels, but please don’t sugar coat it. Lives have been destroyed because of David’s driving.

  • Jack, obviously when the tox screens come back everyone will know a lot more. I am assuming David was drunk, hence the tragically stupid behavior. But I don’t know that, and neither does my brother. Thus the generality. But I understand what you mean. Of course, it was stupidity.

  • Paul and I worked together. We fought like cats and dogs! That being said we were also great friends and I miss the hell out of him.

  • You need to get your facts straight before you talk about what happened that night! If these people were so concerned about David being drunk why did they just call Rochelle’s sister for a ride or walk home! they were adults right?! also David and Delora didn’t show up at the bar out of the blue!! REMEMBER THAT! something happened between the bar and going home somebody’s not telling the whole story

  • CC, what in the world are you talking about? And whom are you talking to? This circumstance is heart-tearingly tragic for everyone involved, particularly for the families of four dead young people, and two gravely injured young women.

    You’re welcome to comment here but please dial back your tone.

    I don’t know whether or not David was drunk. Nor does it say he was anywhere in the story. What we do know is that a well-liked young father drove much too fast in a residential neighborhood, lost control of his truck, and four people plus an unborn baby died as a consequence, with the driver being one of the four. Those facts are undisputed.

    I don’t know what point you’re trying to make. But please make it with a little more sensitivity.

  • You make this kid (David) out to be someone who was irresponsible. You state that him and Delora walked into the bar all of a sudden, have you been to that bar? are you sure this kid would take his wife there out of the blue?! then you state that he began driving fast for no apparent reason and the girls yelled “we have children”, who says that when they’re in the car with someone who is driving fast? other news reports state they they ALL went out to the bar to celebrate and you state that they just walked in out of no where.
    Yes this is a tragedy and and yes 4 young people died but this blog your writing seems biased dont you think? all of the comments seem to blame one person only.

  • Concerned Citizen. This isn’t a news article, it is a story of a man who has left behind a daughter and a long time girlfriend. The facts of that night don’t need to be gone through with a fine tooth comb. Then fact of the matter is Paul, who was a great person, has died. I have a feeling by reading your posts, that you didn’t know Paul personally, and that is unfortunate for you. He was a great person, who treated my boyfriend and I like we were best friends every time we saw him. This article isn’t meant for you to trash the people who died. It is meant to honor the people who died that night, especially Paul. Of course it is biased, this is an article about PAUL, not about what happened that night. It is meant to tell the community of who Paul was, what his life was like, and how it tragically ended. This is meant for honor, not your selfish attacks on a dead man. Have some respect for the friends and family of the deceased. If this was your relative would u want someone like yourself commenting it so immaturely? Respect goes a long way. Regardless of your opinions from this point forward, think before you post. Keep your negativity to yourself. This isn’t why this article was written.

  • […] » Blog Archive » A Story Behind the Story: Paul …Apr 27, 2011 … When Paul Romero and his longtime girlfriend, Destiny Mendoza, plus Paul’s sister, Rochelle Romero, and Rochelle’s boyfriend, Jimmy … […]

  • I read this story after seeing a picture of David’s and his girlfriend’s headstone and researching his name. After reading the eloquent article by his friend, I felt that I got to read about a terrific young man (Paul) and reflect on the fragility of this life. This was a young man that was well worth knowing and even better to have had as a friend. Hopefully, the posting of this article has an impact on some young person in their decision to drink and drive or overdrive. We live in a society where no one is to blame or held accountable for their actions. A driver has the responsibility to care for the safety of the people in his vehicle. Driving at a high rate of speed through a residential street was so out of bounds that it put the occupants of that vehicle in peril, let alone the residents of the neighborhood where this tragedy occurred. That being said, I pray for the survivors and hope that they celebrate the life of Paul and way he impacted people with his love for people. God bless Paul and his family…

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