Guatemalan would-be lawyer died in mom’s arms in California SUV crash

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A young Guatemalan woman in search of a better life was among the 13 migrants killed in Tuesday’s horrific Southern California crash near the US-Mexico border — dying in her mother’s arms, her family said.

Yesenia Magali Melendrez Cardona, 23, left her hometown of Chiquimulilla in February amid rising unemployment in the pandemic-ravaged town, following in her father’s footsteps from 15 years earlier, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

But the woman’s dream for a better life was shattered when a maroon Ford Expedition carrying 25 people, including Yesenia’s mother, Verlyn Cardona, was broadsided in California’s Imperial County by a semi hauling two empty trailers.

Seventeen passengers were ejected and Verlyn, 46, found her daughter dead across her legs when she regained consciousness in the back of the SUV, the Times reported.

“She couldn’t reach the American dream,” Yesenia’s father, Maynor Melendrez, of New York, told the newspaper in Spanish.

Thirteen passengers in the 1997 Expedition were killed, and at least 10 were Mexican nationals. At least four women inside the vehicle were Guatemalan, two of whom who died, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Yesenia was studying to be a lawyer at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala when she and her mother decided to leave, according to her uncle, Rudy Dominguez, who also fled the Central America nation 16 years ago.

The pair left on Feb. 2 and stayed in Baja California, Mexico, for about a week before getting into the Ford Expedition that typically holds about seven or eight passengers, the Times reported.

“To have 25 people in that SUV, it’s unimaginable,” Dominguez said. “It’s inhumane.”

Eight people were still inside the mangled vehicle when first responders got to the site at the intersection of Highway 115 and Norrish Road in Imperial County after it drove through a 10-foot-wide hole cut in a border fence separating the US and Mexico.

Six of the passengers were dead, while two others were rushed to a hospital, the Times reported. The youngest victim was a 15-year-old girl whose name and nationality were undetermined, California Highway Patrol officials said.

Verlyn Cardona, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in the wreck, has since been released from a hospital. She has no memory of the accident, just regaining consciousness to find her daughter dead.

“She always tried to give her daughter a better life,” Dominguez said. “Never imagining that the price she would pay would be this.”

A second vehicle spotted crossing the border early Tuesday, a Chevy Suburban, was carrying 19 people and caught fire for unknown reasons on a nearby interstate. The occupants, all of whom escaped, were detained by Border Patrol agents, authorities said.

With Post wires

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