SAN JOSE -- Sandra Corona has gotten an explanation for why in a flash she lost her son and why her would-be daughter-in-law's life is hanging in the balance. But she'll never have a good answer.
Police say Adrian Corona embarked on a street race through the East Santa Clara Street corridor that ended in a violent crash that killed the 21-year-old San Jose native and critically injured his fiancee and a friend early Sunday.
"That wasn't him," Sandra Corona said of her son. "He doesn't ever race. I'm not sure what really happened."
What happened, according to a timeline assembled from family, friends and San Jose traffic investigators, was that around 1:30 a.m. Corona was eastbound on East Santa Clara Street in a Cadillac STS that belonged to 22-year-old Alejandra Andonaegui, his childhood sweetheart. Also in the car were 27-year-old Stockton resident Jackie Garrido, a longtime friend of Andonaegui, and another female friend.
They were heading home from downtown San Jose, where they had been taking in the night life, and came to a stop light. An unidentified car pulled up alongside them. Its engine revved in a tacit challenge.
Sandra Corona said that her son agreeing to such a gesture was out of character. But she did not challenge the police account that the two cars raced down East Santa Clara toward Highway 101 and that Adrian Corona lost control of the Cadillac near 24th Street as the other car, described vaguely as a red Nissan or Acura Integra-style car, sped off.
The Cadillac hit a sidewalk pole, then slammed into a tree so hard that nearly a day later a piece of 5-inch-diameter metal was embedded perpendicularly into the tree.
Amid the scene, a story of heroism emerged. Miguel Pargaz, 31, was walking along Santa Clara Street between 24th and 25th streets when he saw the crash.
"I ran and tried to get to the car," Pargaz said.
He, his brother and a friend used a piece of crash debris to break a rear passenger window and pulled out Garrido and the other passenger. Then they grabbed fire extinguishers from another neighbor and from a VTA bus that stopped near the scene.
Ignoring bystanders' calls to stay away from the flaming car because of the risk of explosion, the three put out the fire.
"But I couldn't pry the front door open," said Pargaz, who exhibited signs of shock as he spoke Sunday night. "There was no way to get them out."
Rescue crews sheared the top of the car to reach Adrian Corona and Andonaegui. The 21-year-old Corona, a Mount Pleasant High School alum and aspiring truck driver, was pronounced dead at the scene. Andonaegui, a medical assistant and Independence High School alum, and Garrido were transported to area hospitals where they are listed in critical condition. The fourth passenger escaped major injury.
Dozens of mourners descended on the crash site Sunday evening to form a candlelight vigil for the victims.
"It is just devastating," said Rose Navarrette, a friend of Corona's family who attended. "These are good kids. It's a tremendous loss."
On Monday, Sandra Corona stood in the Evergreen neighborhood home where she lived with her son -- the eldest of five siblings -- and reflected on the losses, present and future.
"He told me that he was going to move out, start his own family. He had his goal set, was really excited about it," she said. "He was a very kind person with a big heart."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.