A 12-year-old Des Moines girl remembered for her “infectious smile” and love of softball was killed in a car crash by a man a U.S. senator says is in the country illegally.
Lea died after the crash that also injured four others, including her grandfather.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a news release that he is seeking the entire immigration history of Fernando Lopez Aguilar, 18.
“Prior to the incident, the driver Fernando Lopez Aguilar, apparently received deferred deportation protection under the Obama Administration’s executive action on immigration,” said Grassley, in the news release. “However, he has since fallen out of status with the program and remains in the country illegally.”
Lea’s former teacher wrote on Facebook, “She was my fifth grade student a little over a year ago and she comes from one of the best families I have ever come across in my 18 years of teaching.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Grassley Is Questioning Why Aguilar Was Allowed to Remain in the United States
In his letter, Grassley wrote to the Homeland Security secretary, “It has come to my attention that Fernando Lopez Aguilar had previously been approved for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) but has since fallen out of status and currently resides in the U.S. illegally. If true, Lea Phann died at the hands of someone who broke our laws and should not have been allowed to remain in the United States.”
Grassley demanded that Homeland Security answer a series of questions, including what previous contact, if any, Aguilar had with law enforcement.
Lea died on September 10, says her obituary, and is survived by her parents, two siblings, grandparents and extended family.
2. Police Alleged Aguilar Was Speeding & Knew His Brakes Were Malfunctioning
According to The Des Moines Register, police said Aguilar was speeding.
Court documents also alleged that Aguilar “told investigators that he had known for at least three days the brakes in his car had been malfunctioning, but he drove the vehicle anyway,” the Des Moines Register said.
KCCI said the vehicle carrying Phann and others injured was struck “by an airborne pickup truck that was sent flying” when Aguilar allegedly ran a stop sign and crashed into it. There was a baby in the Aguilar vehicle in a car seat, but the child was not injured, reported KCCI.
3. Lea Fought for Her Life & Her Grandfather Was Also Injured
KCCI-TV reported that Lea initially survived the crash, which left her grandfather in critical condition.
Lea suffered a fractured skull and neck, said KCCI. Lea was in the 7th grade at Brody Middle School. She turned 12 while in the hospital after the September 8 crash before dying two days after the crash occurred.
Grassley’s letter cited local news reports in saying that Aguilar was charged with “serious injury by reckless driving, operating without a driver’s license, endangerment and no insurance.”
WHOTV says the charge was upgraded to homicide by reckless driving after Lea died.
4. Lea Played Softball & Loved Science
Lea’s obituary says the girl “was adventurous and loved playing softball, doing crafts and cooking. She also enjoyed learning, especially science. Lea had an infectious laugh, her presence alone made everyone smile.”
Lea’s softball team wore helmet stickers with her number 21 on them. Lea was also part of a leadership training program at summer camp. Wrote one woman, “Lea is one of my campers from camp, I’ve really enjoyed watching her mature from camper my first summer to being part of the leadership training program this past summer.”
A classmate wrote on Facebook, “R.I.P Lea Phann?I miss you so much you were so nice? and funny every time I see a Turtle all think of u ? I miss I every day? and I hope you like your new life in heaven ?”
A woman wrote, “Lea Phann was a friend of my granddaughter and they were on the same softball team. She was so quickly taken from us in a horrible car accident. Please keep them in your prayers, what a beautiful family of faith.”
According to We Are Iowa, the others injured in the three-car crash were 67-year-old Sos Phann, 12-year-old Lea Phann, 7-year-old Khloey Phann, and 18-year-old Frances Jordan.
Wrote a relative, “Tragic car accident ?. A sweet girl on my uncle’s side of the family that lives here in Des Moines. We don’t think much can happen on a car ride home after school these days. I was told the 3 girls ride home with their grandpa everyday and this one time the oldest stayed back at school. I get it. Life is precious and short. The gift of eternal life comes with knowing Jesus. May your prayers be a voice in heaven for this girl and her family.”
5. The Community Has Rallied Around the Phann Family
5 Borough Bagels, a local business, wrote on Facebook, “the Iced Vanilla Chai Tea Latte. In honor of Lea, 100% of proceeds of her favorite drink from 9/13/16-10/13/16 will be donated to her family.”
A woman who shared on post on that event wrote on Facebook, “Our Cambodian community is very small and tight knit. This young girl happens to have been related to my son, on his fathers side. I haven’t said much for I feel it isn’t necessarily my place but for those of you on 2 wheels, please head out and show your support.”