In an instant, robbery suspect fleeing police shattered a West Dallas family
By SARAH MERVOSH
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS/Dec. 23, 2012
The living room is filled with reminders of the Christmas the Ipiña family thought they’d have. A tree in the corner glimmers with gold and red ornaments. A stuffed Santa sits near the TV. Three stockings lie on an end table — one for each child in the family.
All of this, however, has lost its meaning. The only part of the room that matters is a makeshift shrine near the front door: An oversized portrait of Angeles Ipiña in her quinceañera dress hangs above a burning candle and homemade rosaries.
Angeles died earlier this month. The 16-year-old was in the car with her parents when, according to police, a convicted felon fleeing from officers ran a red light in northwest Dallas. His SUV slammed into the Ipiñas’ small sedan, and Angeles sustained massive head injuries. In addition to killing her, the collision seriously injured both of her parents.
The Ipiñas were at the wrong place at the wrong time — when, police say, a man with an extensive criminal history disregarded the law again. Had the family passed through the intersection seconds earlier or later, the outcome would have been different. Instead, they’re left to deal with a brutal reality: Life can change in an instant, sometimes in horrible ways, sometimes because of events out of our control.
The accident has shattered this close-knit West Dallas family. In addition to grieving Angeles’ death, the Ipiñas now face the prospect of legal proceedings, mountains of medical bills and an uncertain future.
Angeles dreamed of becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. She had charted her course: study hard at Williams Preparatory, attend Baylor University, become a doctor.
“I saw her graduating. I knew she’d make it,” said Dawn Barnett, who mentored Angeles through Mercy Street, a Christian organization that works to keep West Dallas kids in school.
A junior in high school, Angeles was a cheerleader and a volunteer at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. In the weeks before her death, she was learning to drive and swooning over her first boyfriend. When he surprised her with hot chocolate one day at school, she saved the empty paper cup in her locker.
Her 22-year-old sister Diana remembers Angeles as an optimist who always believed the best about people.
“If we told her to be careful because people out in the world could do her harm, she never believed that,” Diana said.
On the night of Dec. 7, a Friday, Angeles was celebrating a friend’s birthday in the arcade room at Cinemark 17 at Forest Lane and Webb Chapel Road. Her parents picked her up afterward, and they headed home.
Meanwhile, investigators say, two armed robbers were plying their trade not far away. Around 10 p.m., according to witnesses, Angel Palomo, 27, and Cesar Ramirez, 26, held up a man and woman in the parking lot of a northwest Dallas apartment complex. Police say Palomo pointed a handgun at the victims, while Ramirez took a gold chain, a wallet and two cellphones. Palomo and Ramirez ran to their green Ford Explorer and drove off.
The victims, according to police records, provided detailed descriptions of the robbers and their getaway vehicle. They said one of the men, the one who’d held a gun on them, had a teardrop tattoo under his left eye.
A short time later, two uniformed officers in a squad car spotted the green Explorer. The driver, who turned out to be Palomo, had a teardrop tattoo on his face. Police say Palomo refused to stop, and when the officers gave chase, he sped through three stop signs. According to a police affidavit, the SUV, heading west on Merrell Road, was going nearly twice the 30 mph speed limit.
Angeles was in the back seat of her parents’ 2011 Kia, texting her friends. Her mother, Maria, was driving. Her father, Martin, was in the front passenger seat. The car was quiet except for the click, click, click of Angeles’ phone.
At Webb Chapel Road, police say, Palomo ran a red light. The SUV barreled into the intersection and crushed the Ipiñas’ little white car. Police lights swirled. There was blood. Maria lost consciousness. Martin wailed, “My baby, my baby.”
Diana was out to dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s when she got the phone call from police. She picked up her 15-year-old brother, also named Martin, and rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
At Parkland, Diana wandered the halls. She moved in a circuit, over and over, visiting her father, mother and sister. She made difficult choices.
When the doctors needed to discuss resuscitating Angeles, it was Diana they went to. When Martin asked how Angeles was doing, it was Diana who lied to protect her father; she said she didn’t know. When Maria awoke and didn’t want Angeles to be alone, it was Diana who promised to remain by her sister’s side.
And when the Ipiñas decided to take Angeles off life support, it was Diana who stayed in the room to hold her hand.
Diana watched over her sister, swollen and hooked up to machines. She saw the doctors give her medicine so she wouldn’t feel any pain. She cringed as Angeles’ body began to twitch.
She stood at the foot of the bed until it was over. Then, she returned to Angeles’ side and held her sister once more.
A week before Christmas, the Ipiñas said goodbye to Angeles.
About 300 people crammed into Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, a small sanctuary west of Dallas Love Field. Maria draped a cream-colored cloth over her daughter’s casket with her one uninjured hand. When Diana walked up and read a passage from the Book of Isaiah, her voice held steady.
Toward the end of the Mass, a woman sang “Ave Maria” a cappella. Several people closed their eyes and absorbed the music. One teenage boy kept his gaze to the ground.
Diana didn’t let herself cry; she only stared at the box holding her sister’s body.
Afterward, everyone met at the cemetery. They released white balloons while the casket was lowered into the ground. Diana watched as the balloons dispersed into the sky.
She hoped that Angeles might catch one and know how much she’s loved.
Diana has moved back into her family’s small home. She takes care of her parents and brother. She answers the door and offers bottled water to a guest.
She’s just begun to process what’s happened. Intertwined with her grief is a sense of injustice.
“At times, I couldn’t care less about the people who crashed into my parents’ car, and there are other moments where I feel such hatred and rage at them,” she said. “It’s because of them that I have lost my sister, my goddaughter, my ‘munchkin.’”
Ramirez was on probation for drug possession at the time of the crash. Palomo had gotten out of jail a few months earlier. He, too, had been charged with drug possession. They’re being held in the Dallas County Jail on charges of evading arrest and aggravated robbery. The driver, Palomo, was additionally charged with murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Both men declined to be interviewed for this story, as did their lawyers. Beyond minor cuts and bruises, Palomo and Ramirez were uninjured in the crash.
The day after Angeles’ funeral, the Ipiñas sat together in their living room. Maria was on the couch, her fractured arm propped on a pillow, a patch over one eye. She looked around at the room filled with reminders of the Christmas they thought they’d have: the tree, the stuffed Santa, the stocking with Angeles’ name.
“Christmas is just going to be like another day,” she said. “The house feels so lonely, so quiet. This isn’t our home anymore.”
Since her daughter’s death, everything has changed. Maria feels like her family is coming apart. She said Angeles had been “le piedra que sostenía esta casa.”
She searched for the English translation. She turned to Diana for help.
The rock of the house.
Memorial fund established
A fund has been established at Frost Bank to help offset the Ipiñas’ expenses and create a memorial fund in Angeles’ name. Information is at facebook.com/angelesipina. Checks can be written to the Angeles Ipiña Memorial Fund, Frost Bank, 2727 N. Harwood, 10th Floor, Dallas, Texas 75201, Attention: Darius Washington.