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Family gathers in mourning

Crash killed 2 siblings; 3rd clings to life

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Four-year-old Yanira Robles and 9-year-old Jorge "Teto" Robles-Almeda loved playing together and with their 6-year-old brother, Christopher Robles.

"These kids were so good. So nice. Always willing to smile . . . just wonderful," said cousin Luz Robles. "They always wanted to be with family."

Friday, members of the Robles family were trying to console each other less than 24 hours after an accident in front of their house claimed the lives of Yanira and Teto and left Christopher in critical but stable condition.

The little sister and her older brother were killed about 6 p.m. Thursday when a car on busy 1300 West lost control and hit them near 6600 South in Taylorsville while they were playing in their driveway. Christopher remained in critical condition Friday at Primary Children's Medical Center after several hours of surgery.

The car that hit them traveled about 30 feet from the Robles' driveway, smashing through two cinderblock and brick retaining walls before coming to rest.

The driver accused in the accident was released from a local hospital Friday and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail. Michael Joseph Whitton, 19, was booked into jail for investigation of two counts of manslaughter, both second-degree felonies.

Witnesses said that after the accident Whitton got out of his car and acted "out of control." He took off his shoes, pulled his shirt over his head and screamed frantically, one witness said.

Investigators are still waiting for test results before determining whether drugs or alcohol were involved. They did not have an explanation Friday as to why he allegedly drove into oncoming traffic before the car he was driving struck the children.

Members of the extended family gathered Friday at the Robles home to try to comfort the children's parents, Elias and Maria Robles, and to pray. Luz Robles, who is acting as family spokeswoman, said many of the prayers were for Christopher.

"We are just praying that he can come back home and come back to his family," she said.

Elias and Maria Robles were born in Peru. They came to Utah, where all their children were born, about 10 years ago. In addition to the three children affected by the accident, the Robles have a 4-month-old daughter named Diana.

The children's parents are in shock, Luz Robles said. Maria Robles was examined and treated by hospital officials Thursday night as a precaution.

A trust fund for the family has been set up at Zions Bank under the Robles name.

"We're going to need a lot of help to pay for this," Luz Robles said.

Funeral services had not been arranged Friday, but Luz Robles said she expects them to be held at the first of the coming week.

Grief counselors were sent Friday to nearby Heartland Elementary, Teto and Christopher's school. Christopher is in first grade; Teto was in fourth. School officials notified classmates of the accident but were weighing whether to tell the whole school. Children who were upset were allowed to contact their parents if needed.

"Counselors are available for anyone who feels they need to talk to them," Jordan District spokesman Michael Kelley said. Though the teacher of one of the victims and the principal were particularly upset, Kelley was unsure of the students' awareness of the tragedy.

"I don't know how much they're saying to the kids at this point," Kelley said.

A candlelight vigil developed late Thursday at the accident scene. By Friday, a memorial with flowers, candles, teddy bears and toys was growing near the side of the road where the car came to rest. A steady flow of relatives and people who had never met the Robles family stopped by to drop off gifts at the memorial and pay their respects.

Paul Alexander lives across the street from the accident and was one of the first to run over to the scene to help. He stayed with Christopher to help try to calm him before medics arrived.

"It felt like something I had to do. Afterwards it really hit me," said Alexander, who said he cried for an hour after. "It's not a man's place to cry. After something like this though, I couldn't help myself."

Alexander was sent home from work early Friday and returned to the accident scene to try to cope with what happened.

"This was the worst I've seen in my life. I never want to see something like that again," he said.

Amanda Grover and her two young girls, McKenna and Olivia, also visited the memorial. The girls each dropped off one of their own stuffed animals.

"We want (the victims and family) to know you're in our prayers," Amanda Grover said.

Contributing: Jennifer Toomer-Cook.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com