San Diego

Paradise Valley Couple Had ‘One Last Christmas' With Family

Sons of a Paradise Valley couple killed in a fiery highway collision on Christmas find some comfort in the fact their parents were together in their final moments.

Ruth and Jose Cortez were remembered Wednesday as kind, loving and helpful to neighbors and fellow church members.

The husband and wife, both 80 years old, were killed in a two-car crash on southbound Interstate 5 in Oceanside after 5 p.m. Monday. 

"Though this is a great loss for my family and the sadness is at times unbearable we find comfort that they were together and had one last Christmas with their family," Allen Cortez posted on social media a day after learning of his parents' death.

Jose Cortez was in the rear-right passenger seat with his wife in the front passenger seat when the car they were traveling in collided with another on In-5.

Jose Cortez died at the scene, according to California Highway Patrol officers. Ruth Cortez was rushed to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla where she died from her injuries.

The couple were always in their garden, shared their avocados with neighbors and even drove fellow church members to services according to those who knew them.

"They were so lovely," said longtime neighbor Frank Quieasol. "They were nice. They were good people. They loved each other."

Quieasol said he has known the couple for 50 years. 

The couple's sons live in Riverside, California, and Texas. They are expected to travel to San Diego this week. 

Edwin Camacho is a deacon with the Paradise Valley Seventh Day Adventist Church where Jose and Ruth both served as deacon and deaconess.

"It's a big loss in our church because they help a lot," he said.

Each Saturday the couple would greet people attending the church and every Tuesday they volunteered with the church's food bank. Jose would make food deliveries himself.

The couple was members of the church for 39 years, Associate Pastor Harry Bennett told NBC 7.

"They were an example to all of us as to how to live," said Associate Pastor Harry Bennett, who has known the couple 36 years. "They have been active every day, reaching out and helping."

The church community os devastated by the loss but is using their faith to remain hopeful.

"We as Seventh Day Adventists have hope we will see them again," Pastor Bennett said. "That's based on our understanding of the Bible, that we will see them again, and that's what drives our hope going forward is that we have hope in the future.”

A third person died in the collision and a fourth person was injured in the Christmas Day crash. 

Investigators say an Escondido man driving a 1996 Nissan sedan attempted to exit State Route 76 and suddenly tried to return to the main freeway lanes. The vehicle struck a concrete barrier and several barrels lining the road. The car became airborne and landed on the right shoulder. 

A second driver, a 65-year-old woman from National City, then rear-ended car with her 2016 Nissan Sentra, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's office.

It was then that both cars caught fire in the middle of the freeway.

The driver of the 1996 Nissan was pronounced dead at the scene. His name has not been released by officials. 

The driver of the 2016 Nissan Sentra was taken to Scripps La Jolla Hospital for treatment.

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