NewsCenter 16 has obtained new information about a two-vehicle crash that left two women hospitalized and a six-year-old boy critically injured Monday around 2:30 p.m.
The crash happened at the intersection of W. Western Avenue and S. Walnut Street in South Bend. Both heavily-traveled roadways were closed for hours as emergency workers diagrammed, photographed and cleared the scene.
According to a South Bend Police Department accident report, Maria Perez-Ruiz, 23, was traveling westbound on Western Ave. in a 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer.
At the same time, South Bend resident Depheny Stewart, 23, was driving eastbound along Western Ave. with her son Xavier Stewart, 6, in the back seat.
Once Stewart entered the juncture, police say she made an illegal left-hand turn onto S. Walnut Street.
The unexpected turn left Perez-Ruiz, who was returning home from the post office, with little to no time to brake. The collision forced Stewart’s car into a bridge support pillar, trapping the mother and young son in their gold 1993 Buick Century
According to eyewitness Tyree Bonds, moments before the wreck, he saw Stewart speeding and swerving in and out of traffic along Western Ave.
"She was zooming on down the street. My friend and I were still talking about it and the next thing we heard was a big boom. We looked up and we're like, 'Dang what is that? It’s that car,’” Bonds recalled.
The 23-year-old, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, was transported to Memorial Hospital in stable condition with head and neck injuries. She’s since been upgraded to good condition
Her son Xavier however was in worse shape. Paramedics initially took the child to Memorial Hospital in critical condition with head and various internal injuries. He was later airlifted to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich. for additional medical care. Doctors there expect the young boy to never walk again.
"He had glass all in his face and glass in his ear. You could see the baby all cut and he was balled-up in the back because the car was totally crunched,” Bonds added.
The intersection, which was recently reconfigured, sits below a train viaduct and has a handful of support beams, making visibility a challenge. Therefore, there are multiple roads signs posted along Western Ave., reminding drivers not to turn right or left onto S. Walnut St.
Bond says Stewart may have missed that warning or simply feared missing an appointment she and her son consequently never made. Either way, Bonds says this was not an accident; after all he believes it could have been avoided.
"She was speeding to get somewhere quick. Instead of just taking her time and getting her child to safety, she was basically whipping through traffic trying to get where she wanted to go,” Bonds concluded.
According to published reports by the South Bend Tribune and Michiana’s News Channel (95.3 FM), Stewart tested positive for traces of cocaine and marijuana shortly after the wreck.
Despite those reports, South Bend Police would only tell NewsCenter 16 that they suspected and subsequently tested Stewart for drugs. Those toxicology results are not expected to return from the laboratory for two-to-three weeks.
Should the blood tests come back positive, Stewart, who already has a 2007 arrest for disorderly conduct, could face multiple felony charges. That would be in addition to paying her traffic citation for an “improper turning” violation.
As of Tuesday night, the St. Joseph County FACT team continued its crash investigation. Police are asking any additional eye-witnesses to contact Sgt. Gene Eyester or Sgt. William Krauss at (574) 235-9818.