Driver charged in crash that killed 2 children appears in court - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Driver charged in crash that killed 2 children appears in court

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Israel Gonzalez Israel Gonzalez

A Meriden man arrested Sunday morning after police believe he caused a crash that killed two young children faced a judge Monday.

Just before 2 a.m. Sunday, 8-year-old Lorenzo Cruz and 5-year-old Tatiana Cruz, along with their parents Gina Schroder and Michael Cruz and 12-year-old brother Alejandro Schroder, were riding in the area of Broad Street.

Family members told Eyewitness News they were hungry and ran out to grab some needed groceries at the 24-hour Walmart in Wallingford. They stopped at a red light on Broad Street, which is close to their home.

The family was rammed from behind by a vehicle being driven by Israel Gonzalez, 29, police said. Gonzalez was driving without a license.

"My little niece, the 5-year-old, was singing a song to her mother," said uncle David Valentin. "The next you know she felt the impact."

Lorenzo Cruz and Tatiana Cruz were killed in the crash. Gina Schroder and Michael Cruz, along with Alejandro Schroder, were injured in the crash.

Family members say Gina Schroder and Alejandro Schroder both suffered internal bleeding and remained in the hospital Monday. Michael Cruz was released from the hospital Monday.

Police said Gonzalez ran from the scene and was located at his nearby house. He's a Mexican citizen and had identification cards with a number of different names on him when he was arrested.

Gonzalez was charged with felony evading responsibility, reckless driving and operating a motor vehicle without a license.

Police said further, more serious charges, are expected pending the results of Gonzalez's blood-alcohol content. They said alcohol and speed are believed to be contributing factors to the crash.

Valentin said Michael Cruz, who was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash, is blaming himself.

"He's going through it because he was the driver, so he's kind of blaming himself right now," Valentin said. "But it's not really his fault, he didn't know it was going to happen."

Gonzalez was arraigned at Meriden Superior Court on Monday. Relatives of Lorenzo Cruz and Tatiana Cruz were in court and said they still can't comprehend what Gonzalez has taken away from their family.

"I wake up and I go to bed crying, man," Valentin said. "Because of this situation, those are my little angels. Only 5 and 8, they never experienced life."

"They were wonderful. They were happy," said grandmother Deborah Pullum. "They were shining lights. And when I look up at the sky at night their light is shining."

The family, who has lived in Meriden for just a few months, moved from Middletown where the rest of their family members are from.

Both Lorenzo Cruz, who was in third grade, and Tatiana Cruz, who was in kindergarten, attended the Israel Putnam School, where the Meriden superintendent of schools, Mark D. Benigni, said they had grief counselors on hand. The crisis team was also activated at Washington Middle School where Alejandro Schroder attends.

Lorenzo Cruz and Tatiana Cruz also have another older brother who was not with the family in the car at the time. Family members said he's having a terrible time coping as well.

The judge ordered Gonzalez's bond to be set at $1 million because he is considered an extreme flight risk. Gonzalez, who has no pervious criminal history, was unable to post bond because he is unemployed.

"You left the scene of an accident, just a horrific accident," the judge said.

There were reports that a passenger was also seen fleeing from Gonzalez's vehicle, but police are still working to confirm that person's identity and determine their whereabouts.

Gonzalez is due back in court in two weeks.

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