Driver charged in Christmas wreck that kills three (updated)

Published 6:33 pm Friday, December 25, 2015

A wreck early Christmas morning claimed the life of a 40-year-old Clanton woman and two of her children.

The vehicle they were traveling home in during heavy rain left the roadway and entered a pond about 2 a.m. Dec. 25 near the intersection of Chilton County Road 54 and Chilton County Road 73, according to a press release from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

The driver, 33-year-old Luis Alberto Cruz, who lists an address in Verbena, has been charged with manslaughter, as the preliminary investigation indicated alcohol was a factor in the crash, according to the release.

The three victims were Maria Rocha-Gomez, 5-year-old Mariana Rocha-Gomez and 7-year-old Mariela Rocha-Gomez.

It was unclear the relationship between Cruz and the victims.

Another child occupant survived the crash, swam and attempted to find aid for his mother and siblings, Chilton County Sheriff John Shearon said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney C.J. Robinson confirmed on Monday that the child attempted to extricate the deceased victims from the car once in the water, but he was unable to do so.

None of the occupants in the 2005 Nissan Altima were using seat belts or child restraints.

Cruz fled the scene but was apprehended in Clanton by Alabama State Troopers.

He has been charged with three counts of manslaughter and is being held at Chilton County Jail, according to the release.

His bond has been set at $150,000, according to court records.

The Chilton County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation.

Court records indicate Cruz has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 12, 2016, at 9 a.m. before Chilton County District Judge Rhonda Hardesty.

Funeral services for Maria, Mariela and Mariana Rocha-Gomez will be announced later this week by Ellison Memorial Funeral Home of Clanton.

A fund has been established to assist the family with final expenses in the wake of the tragedy.

Contributions may be mailed to Ellison Memorial Funeral Home, ATTN: Rocha-Gomez Fund P.O. Box 2716, Clanton, AL 35046.

The family of the three victims released a statement provided by Chilton County Coroner Aaron Ellison on Monday.

“We would like to thank the community for their outpouring of love and support shown to our family in the wake of this tragedy. We thank the many first responders and law enforcement who responded to the accident on Christmas morning. Our family continues to ask for your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.”