A young mother of two and her boyfriend, an Iraq war veteran, were killed on Friday, May 8 in an alcohol related traffic accident on the 99 Freeway just north of Chowchilla.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Vanessa Tapetillo, 28 and a sociology student at Cal State Stanislaus, was killed along with her boyfriend, former Marine Juan Barragan, also 28, when a pickup truck and attached trailer landed on their vehicle. The truck, while exiting the freeway, lost control and became airborne, then impacted the couple who were on the on-ramp just adjacent, at around 5 pm.
The driver of the truck, Bruce Erickson, 65 of Winton in Merced County, was arrested on the scene with a blood alcohol level of .10%, well over the legal limit. He has been charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and one count of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with bodily injury.
According to witness reports, Erickson had been drinking heavily that day, and refused to be tested for his alcohol level by responding officers. He also seemed to show no remorse for the fatal accident, nodding off in the back of the police vehicle after he was arrested.
“Tapetillo was a full time student at the university” writes Sabra Stafford of the Turlock Journal, “all while raising her 10-year-old son and her six-year-old daughter”.
Barragan, meanwhile, had served with the United States Marine Corps and survived two tours of Iraq. Ultimately, he was killed not by enemy fire, but by the reckless behavior of a fellow citizen whom he had previously fought to protect.
Erickson’s bail was set at $400,000. A GoFundMe page has also been set up to cover funeral expenses and to provide for Tapetillo’s children. Over $10,000 has already been raised.
Read More: Turlock Journal: University student, Iraq veteran killed by drunk driver