WEST JORDAN — In grief, there is no language barrier.
No words — not in Spanish, nor in English — can soothe the pain of watching your children lie side by side in white lacquered coffins. No words can answer the question asked by a priest at a Spanish-language funeral mass, "Porque los dos?" Or in English, "Why the two of them?"
Jorge "Teto" Almeida-Robles, 9, and his sister Yanira J. Robles, 5, were buried Tuesday, surrounded by family, friends and a community whose collective hearts broke when the two Taylorsville children were struck by a car and killed while playing in their own front yard last week.
Just hours after the children were laid to rest, Salt Lake County prosecutors charged driver Michael Joseph Whitton, 19, with two counts of criminal homicide, automobile homicide, a second-degree felony. Whitton also faces a third-degree felony charge of driving while under the influence and causing serious bodily injury, and a class B misdemeanor charge of failure to stop at the scene of an accident. Each of the second-degree felonies carry a punishment of up to 15 years in prison; third-degree felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison; and class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail.
In documents filed in 3rd District Court, police said tests indicated Whitton was under the influence of numerous drugs, including amphetamines, benzodiazepine, opiates and cannabinoids. Prosecutors also filed six counts of alternative felony and misdemeanor charges against Whitton, including possession of a controlled substance, causing the death or serious bodily injury of another and failure to stop at an accident.
Also injured in the Sept. 16 accident at the Robles home, 6615 S. 1300 West, was Jorge and Yanira's brother, 6-year-old Christopher, who remains hospitalized and unaware of his siblings' deaths. Christopher had surgery Monday and is expected to recover, a cousin, Luz Robles, said.
When he is well, there will be no words — in Spanish or English — to make the events of the last week easier to understand.
Parents Luis and Anna Robles accepted countless words of comfort, hugs and handshakes from mourners Tuesday during services at St. Joseph's the Worker Catholic Church, to which the media were invited. The family speaks Spanish, and services were conducted mostly in Spanish. But non-Spanish speakers among the more than 200 mourners said the language of the Catholic liturgy didn't matter.
"I don't need to understand" the words, said Philippine Cannefax, a neighbor and fellow parishioner of the family. "It is so difficult to lose two little ones . . . , to see two of your children go that way."
At the grave site, no words were needed to see how deeply the Robles have been wounded. Tears poured as the caskets were lowered and mourners dropped flowers upon them.
Kathy Robles, the children's elder half-sister who is Luis Robles' daughter, witnessed the accident and was nearly inconsolable.
Anna Robles could barely stand, but she went to the edge of the grave and dropped red roses and white carnations on her children's caskets before collapsing into the arms of two cousins. Her husband spoke to her gently as he eased her into a chair.
In the Latin tradition, no one left the children's side until after cemetery workers covered them over with earth and grass. Family members then marked the spot with more flowers, teddy bears and other mementos that reminded them of the things the two children loved.
Jorge and Yanira were buried in matching white caskets, stacked one upon the other in a common grave. Yanira took with her a favorite doll. An orange-and-black soccer ball was tucked in beside Jorge. Before the caskets were closed, their red-and-white soccer jerseys were folded and laid upon their chests. On the soccer fields, Yanira sported the number 9; Jorge the number 20.
As Luz Robles explained, their parents "wanted to them to be together, because (Jorge) was always the protector."