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Hit-Run Wreck Kills Eight, All in One Car

June 20, 1995

BEAUMONT, Calif. (AP) _ A car jammed with 11 people crashed in flames after being hit from behind by a pickup truck with an allegedly drunken driver at the wheel. Six children and two adults were killed.

The driver of the pickup fled and was arrested after witnesses led officers to him, police said.

The crowded car, a 1968 Plymouth Valiant, was struck on a freeway about 80 miles east of Los Angeles late Sunday. The car crashed into the center divider, overturned and exploded into flames, firefighter Stephen Thomas said.

In addition to the dead, two adults in the car suffered minor injuries, and a 9-year-old girl was in critical condition with burns. The two injured adults were believed to be the parents of some of the victims, including children ranging in age from 6 months to about 13 years, police said.

``It was a hectic scene,″ Thomas said. ``We were all surprised that we kept finding more people in the car.″

No seat belts and no child seats were in use in the Valiant, said Bob Nickel, a California Highway Patrol spokesman.

The driver of the pickup, Teodolo Gallardo Bermudes, 35, of Palm Springs, suffered only bruises and drove off in his damaged vehicle, Nickel said. Bermudes got off the freeway three miles away but was followed by witnesses who called police on a cellular phone, police said.

Bermudes, who has three previous drunken driving convictions, failed an intoxication test at the scene, Nickel said. Results of a blood-alcohol test won’t be available for about a week.

``I feel bad. I feel sadness. I won’t pay even with my life, but I deserve to pay,″ Bermudes told reporters Monday.

Bermudes was booked for investigation of murder, driving with a suspended license and hit-and-run.

The Riverside County coroner’s office identified the dead as Mayra Rodriguez, 19; her boyfriend, Antonio Madrigal, 21; their children, 2-year-old Carina Madrigal and 2-month-old Antonia Madrigal; Swleima Zamora, 3; Fidela Morgutia, 12; and brothers Jairo Rodriguez, 9, and Omar Rodriguez, 4.

Lee Page and two friends were headed to a casino near Palm Springs when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the pickup weaving and speeding toward him. He tried to change into the same lane as the Valiant, but the pickup did it first, smacking into the back of the Valiant.

``It was like something out of a movie that you don’t want to see,″ said Page, a 20-year-old grocery clerk. ``We heard the shrieks coming from the car as they were burning alive. It was heart-wrenching.″

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