Zermeno: Santa Paulan killed when caught in Highway 126 drag race

December 18, 2002
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesA Santa Paula man, on his way home from a Ventura church Christmas program featuring his grandchild, was killed Tuesday, Dec. 10, when one of two drag racers hit his vehicle and forced it off Highway 126, where other family members following him came upon the crash scene.Jose Zermeno, 65, a Santa Paula Elementary School District employee, was declared dead at the scene after his red pick-up truck was forced off the two-lane eastbound highway near Briggs Road and struck a tree after a collision with one of the racers shortly after 8 p.m..The driver of one of the speeding vehicles, Genaro Mejia, 18 of Santa Paula, and his 16-year-old passenger, Steven Sanchez, also of Santa Paula, received minor injuries when Mejia’s vehicle slammed into the center divider guardrail after hitting the rear of Zermeno’s pick-up.The driver of the third vehicle fled the scene.Witnesses had called in reports of two cars racing in Saticoy at speeds of up to 100 mph; others reported that the two vehicles were driving recklessly on Wells Road and then eastbound on Highway 126.CHP investigators are now seeking the second vehicle involved in the race, which fled the scene, according to Officer Steven Reid.“It was reported by witnesses as being a dark-colored, Honda sedan,” with customized wheel rims and tinted windows.Witnesses had reported street racing in Saticoy between the Honda and the 1999 Chevrolet Malibu driven by Mejia, Officer Reid said. “Witnesses reported this whole racing thing northbound on state Route 118, on the backside of Ventura, prior to them entering eastbound Highway 126. The witnesses said these guys were really going fast and appeared to be racing,” at times crossing over double-yellow lines.
Zermeno had been a Santa Paula resident for about four decades; his widow, Delfina, is a 3rd grade teacher in Oxnard. Three daughters and four grandchildren survive him.Mejia has not yet been charged pending the results of the CHP investigation, Officer Reid added.“We’re going to do a complete investigation, and once completed, we’ll submit it to the District Attorney’s Office for any appropriate charges.”Zermeno had worked for the SPESD as a custodian for almost a dozen years, said District Public Information Officer Pat Untiedt.His latest assignment had been at Blanchard School, she added.“This is terrible, Joe was a real gentle person,” who helped out with cafeteria deliveries to those campuses without on-site kitchens.Untiedt said Zermeno’s co-workers described him as “very kind and sweet, without a negative thought in any way. Joe was very caring about people, a very respectful man, easy-going. . .it’s really sad.”

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