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Hundreds gather at Marshall church to remember young wreck victims

By Robyn Richardsonand Hannah DeClerk
Aug. 21, 2012 at 11 p.m.

MARSHALL - A standing-room only crowd gathered Tuesday for a special candlelight Mass of Angels service at St. Joseph Catholic Church to remember five young parishioners who died in a Monday wreck on Interstate 20.

"Truly this is a very sad day for our St. Joseph's Catholic Church family because we lost the precious lives of five children," Father Denzil Vithanage said before the service.

"This evening we come together in this sacred place to pray for our precious children, who experienced this tragic death," Vithanage told the crowd, which overflowed outside of the sanctuary onto the doorsteps.

As members of the congregation grasped their candles, Vithanage shared memories of the children and showcased their photos to a teary-eyed congregation.

"I never expected that I would celebrate their going away from this world to be with the Lord (so soon)," he said as parishioners passed around boxes of tissue to wipe away tears.

"Your pain is our pain," he continued, addressing the victims' families.

Earlier Tuesday, Marshall ISD officials confirmed that most of the victims attended school there.

Rosbelia Jaimes was an eighth-grade student at Marshall Junior High School.

Omar Jaimes, was a third-grade student at David Crockett Elementary School, and Saideth Acuna, was a first grade student in Marshall ISD.

Also killed were 2-year-old Judith Jaimes and 3-year-old Ulisa Acuna.

David Crockett Elementary Principal Joanna Taylor would not allow her teachers to comment.

"It has been a difficult day for all of us," Taylor said. "We loved these children, and we are just praying God intervenes and helps this family through such a difficult time."

She said the children, who were part of the school's bilingual program, were "precious and sweet" and she helped to "put them in a car and send them home" every day.

Vithanage said the families were not only related to each other, but also were friends who had decided to take their children on a trip to a Canton water park before summer ended.

DPS Trooper Jean Dark said driver Federico Acuna, 35, lost control of the vehicle and ran off the north side of the interstate about 2:15 p.m. Monday in Van Zandt County.

The vehicle rolled several times, ejecting nine people, Dark said, none of whom were wearing seatbelts. There were no child restraint seats in the vehicle, she said.

Dark said Acuna, who was wearing a seat belt, was not injured.

Vithanage asked the community to pray for the grieving families and for the mothers, Elida Jaimes and Estela Acuna, who were reported to be in stable condition, as well as the other three children who were hospitalized: Alexis Jaimes, Uriel Jaimes and Richard Torres Acuna.

Tax deductible donations to assist the families with funeral and medical costs can be made to St. Joseph Catholic Charities, and sent to the church at 410 North Alamo Blvd., Marshall, TX 7670. For details, call (903) 935-2536.

There is an ongoing investigation, Dark said, and no charges have been filed. However, the driver could face charges since the passengers were not wearing seatbelts.

Steadfast Concrete of Marshall, which employs family members of the victims, has also set up an account at Panola National Bank for the benefit of the Acuna/Sanchez families.



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