It was shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday when Fernando Lucero felt the breeze from an airborne pickup truck rocket past his right shoulder.
The 20-year-old was celebrating at an annual festival at Chicano Park when a GMC truck driven by a suspected drunken driver flew off the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and landed in the park. Four people were killed and at least nine others were injured.
“It sounded like a bomb, or a torpedo hitting the water,” Lucero said.
His first move was to run over to protect his 10-year-old brother, Reyes, who was playing with a friend about 15 feet from where the truck landed. He said he was afraid the truck would explode.
Lucero was one of dozens of community members who gathered in Chicano Park on Sunday morning to pay respect to the victims. They laid flowers and candles near the crash site, lighted sage, said prayers and sang songs.
Many witnesses said they had trouble sleeping after seeing the horrific accident, made worse because it occurred in a park where most of them grew up playing.
Their names have not yet been released.The driver has been identified as Richard Anthony Sepolio, 25, a Navy man stationed in Coronado.
He was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.Clutching a handkerchief and crying, Char Mason, of Webster, stood near the crash site. She didn’t know any of the victims and wasn’t at the event, but read about what happened in news reports.
“I just wanted to come pray. Leave a spiritual footprint,” she said. “Life is short. People need to not drink and drive. You have to be mindful.”
Many witnesses at the memorial Sunday were counting their blessings, in addition to mourning the dead. Tina Camarillo, vice president of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, said she and her daughter were at a booth directly next to the one that was hit by Sepolio’s car.
“We’re here to honor the people that passed away. To show their families we feel for them, we support them and we love them,” she said while crying.
Camarillo said the park’s legacy and history are important to her, but she wants barriers placed on the bridge to prevent a similar incident in the future.
“To see such tragedy in an instant . . . ,” she said, trailing off. “[The truck] fell and all I saw was darkness, the glass blew, the canopy fell on my head. My daughter was running to get my mom. It was horrible.”
Camarillo said she believes she was saved by a higher power. “I know the Lord saved us. I felt it and I knew it,” she said. By coincidence, San Diego’s Rock Church was holding its first, small service Sunday for newly released inmates under the bridge.
Zebulon Hill, associate campus pastor, invited witnesses and mourners to join the service.
“The most important thing at the moment is for us to listen to them,” he said. “There is going to be genuine mourning and pain. There’s nothing that we can that will take that pain away. But we want to be here to be that shoulder to cry on, that ear to listen.”
Many of the people who gathered Sunday were still processing what happened.
Victoria Harris, of Eastlake, said she was eating tacos with her boyfriend , about 35 feet from where the truck landed when she heard a loud boom. At first, she thought the truck had just backed into a vendor.
She said her boyfriend joined dozens of other men who lifted the truck off the victims. They were both motorcyclists in the La Raza Run, the group holding an event in the park.
“All the guys just ran over there and pushed the truck on the side,” Harris said.
Carlos Olvera, of Los Angeles, said he was about 40 feet from where the truck landed on Logan Avenue.
“We heard the wreck — bam! — he hits the wall. So, we look up. I just thought it was going to park up there,” he said. “Then, we see it go over the top.”