The family of an Escondido man killed in a DUI crash in Bonsall says the victim was a devoted father, grandfather and rancher passionate about working hard and doing things the right way.
“That’s the way we’ll remember him: hard worker, always being there with family,” Gustavo Monsalvo told NBC 7, referring to his grandfather, Juan Corza Gonzalez, 62.
“[His loss to our family] is indescribable at the moment. We’re still – we know it’s real, but we don’t want to accept that it’s real,” Monsalvo added.
Gonzalez was killed in a crash on Old Highway 395 just before 5:30 a.m. Wednesday when suspected drunk driver Garrett Gelrud, 34, drifted across the double yellow lines as he approached a curve on the rural stretch of road just north of Lilac Road.
Gelrud slammed his Chevy Suburban head-on into Gonzalez’s Nissan Versa, the impact killing Gonzalez at the scene, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officials confirmed.
An Escondido couple witnessed the wreck as they drove on Old Highway 395, but they could not avoid striking the back of Gonzalez’s Nissan. The couple sustained minor injuries.
Gelrud – suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol – fled the scene of the deadly crash on foot. Just after 6 a.m., CHP officials received calls from citizens reporting Gelrud walking barefoot down the road.
Minutes later, Gelrud was detained by officials at a nearby gas station. He was arrested and charged with suspicion of felony DUI, vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run, officials said.
The sudden loss of Gonzalez at the hands of a suspected drunk driver was a complete shock to his loved ones.
The victim’s daughter, Maricela Solis-Gonzalez, told NBC 7 the phone call the family received from authorities after the deadly crash was gut-wrenching.
“You get that phone call that your dad is gone because someone was drunk,” she said. “My first reaction was, ‘I hope he [the DUI suspect] burns in hell.’”
“It's not going to bring my dad back, but I hope justice is there so there's not someone out there who can destroy other families," Solis-Gonzalez added.
For Monsalvo, news of his grandfather’s death was also difficult to comprehend.
“It was just hard receiving the news,” he said, fighting back tears. “It’s hard knowing [alcohol] was the main factor to why my grandfather isn’t here.”
Family members said Gonzalez was on his way to work at the Marquart Ranch in the North County at the time of the accident.
They said he loved his job and the ranch was a major part of his life.
Wendy Marquart Silvester is the daughter of Doug Marquart, the owner of the avocado ranch. Doug was too upset to speak about the death of his friend Thursday, but Silvester told NBC 7 Gonzalez was an extremely dedicated rancher.
Silvester said Gonzalez started the ranch as a foreman alongside Doug and the Marquart family in 1978. She said the pair became inseparable, and Gonzalez’s passing has left a huge hole in her family’s heart.
“[My father told me], 'I can't do this ranch without Juan. More importantly, I don't want to do the ranch without Juan,'" said Silvester. “He was [my father’s] brother. The joy of farming is gone for my dad now without him.”
Solis-Gonzalez said her father immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1977 and immediately began working. He was focused on becoming a legal U.S. citizen and doing everything by the book for his family, she said.
He brought his family to the U.S. in the mid-1980s.
Solis-Gonzalez remembers her father always telling her and her siblings to work hard and do things step-by-step – even if there was a cheaper, easier way to do things.
She said he would remind his children often that everything they did in life would either come with a consequence or reward.
Her father also wanted his children to teach their children the importance of being respectful.
“He barely knew how to read and write, but he taught us way more than any teacher ever could. He taught us about family values, and respect and work ethic," said Solis-Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is survived by four children – two adult daughters and two adult sons – and 11 grandchildren.
On Thursday, the family gathered at a home in the North County to grieve together, waiting on more extended family members to arrive from Mexico.
Monsalvo said he and the older grandkids would band together and be strong for his aunt and uncles.
“We have to be strong – so we don’t break them even more,” he said.
The accident is under investigation.
The DUI suspect was booked into the Vista Detention Facility. He's scheduled to appear in court Friday.