As you may know, a terrible and tragic collision took the lives of a young mother and two of her daughters on Wednesday at the intersection of Highland and Willoughby in Hollywood.
The victims have been identified as Saida Juana Mendez-Bernardino, 27, Hilda Cruz, 6, and Stephanie Cruz, 4, all from Los Angeles. Mendez-Bernardino had been driving her oldest daughter to school and dropped her off moments before the collision. That surviving daughter has a different father than the two girls who were killed.
According to news reports, the driver that caused the crash had a suspended license for failure to appear, speeding and using a mobile phone while driving. He had drifted or turned into opposing lanes of traffic.
In the days following the crash, after confirming with LAPD that the family was in need of assistance, we have been engaged in a vigorous fundraising effort to help the family with final expenses.
As of Sunday, 108 donors had contributed a total of $5,128 in the campaign. The campaign goal of $5,000 was surpassed with a very generous donation from the Roxy Theatre on Sunday night, however they have asked the amount to be confidential. 52 donations were made anonymously. I would also like to offer special thanks for the support from Eric Stolze, Isaac Barinholtz, David Englehart, Aaron Johnson, John Kobara, Sekka, Thomas Becktold, Maria Beck and Jeff Pray.
The campaign will be active through Thursday night and addition contributions are welcome.
As stated on the fundraising page, this campaign was established to make it easier for our readers to contribute — and I offered myself up to do the legwork for the donors to do what I could to make sure the funds are going to the right place. Of course, I realized going in that this might be a can of worms, or at the very least a lot of work, but I decided it was worthwhile to undertake.
On the family’s side, it appears that the mother of the woman who died has been most organized in setting up for donations with the help of a community group called Fiob Frente Indigena. They set up a Bank of America account to collect funds to benefit the family. A letter of authorization was posted on the group’s Facebook page and information on that bank account has been published in La Opinion newspaper and other places.
In an effort to authenticate the group and individuals authorized to act on behalf of the family, I have been working with a contact provided by LAPD who was described as a family spokesperson. On Friday, I met with this individual and felt comfortable that she was acting on behalf of the family. It was clear that she also had a personal relationship with them. As such, and since we were going into a long holiday weekend with banks closed, I decided to advance $2,500 in personal funds to them for any immediate needs that may have arisen.
Today, I became aware that the father of the two girls that died had made statements of concern over the control of these funds (apparently both the Bank of America funds and the funds that I advanced). I immediately called the contact provided by LAPD and discussed this and also spoke with another individual involved in the situation. They explained that there were some ongoing discussions between the parties about the funds and how they would be used. These discussions did not sound entirely unusual and might be expected in a lot of funeral planning situations.
The family is apparently trying to decide between burial at Forest Lawn or Hollywood Forever, with costs ranging up to $15,000 for burial of all three individuals. They explained that burial at Hollywood Forever seemed like a good option for making it convenient for the older daughter to visit the grave sites. They also liked the idea that the young woman might be able to have fun experiences while visiting the graves, perhaps on movie nights. The minimum cost for interment at Hollywood Forever appears to be about $7,500.
There does not seem to be any doubt that the advance funds that I have provided and any further disbursements on behalf of the donors will be used appropriately, and most likely will will be used directly for whatever burial option is decided upon.
The individuals I have spoken with said there may be a chance that burial costs might come in lower than donations received if the burial takes place at Forest Lawn. They discussed returning donations if that were the case. At present time, I am inclined to believe that would not be necessary as there will surely be other appropriate costs where the funds could be applied.
Since the father has apparently voiced some concerns about the control of donations received by the mother/grandmother, I have asked my contacts to work with the parties on coming to an agreement before any further funds are disbursed. My plan, on behalf of the donors, is to personally verify that such an agreement has been reached by speaking with the father and the grandmother directly. I am also considering the option of directly submitting payment towards costs to Hollywood Forever, Forest Lawn or whatever mortuary or cemetery has been decided upon by the parties.
Under no circumstances will Weho Daily keep any of the funds collected in this campaign. As stated on the contribution page, if any complications arise in the process of disbursing these funds appropriately, a last resort option will be to donate them to a crime victims fund or other non-profit agency that might help victims of tragedies such as this. However, I do not currently believe that there will be any insurmountable obstacles to funding funeral costs for the mother and two young girls.
If you are a donor and wish to provide feedback on the plans as outlined here, please get in touch with me using the email address admin at wehodaily.com, via the contact form on this site, or by sending me a message on IndieGoGo, the donation site.