Crash claims the life of a Valley veteran on Memorial Day

FRESNO, Calif.

The army cap worn by 81 year old Jesse Gonzalez still sits on the dashboard of this badly damaged Honda Civic. It was part of the color guard uniform Gonzalez wore during a Memorial Day service that had just wrapped up when tragedy struck.

The California Highway Patrol says Gonzalez ran through a stop sign at the intersection of Olive and Blythe Monday morning.

"He's going to stop. He's going to stop. He didn't. He just came right by and I slammed right into him." said Andy Ramirez.

Andy Ramirez is the man who tried but couldn't avoid striking Gonzalez's car. And it turns out there is more than just heartbreak that binds these two families together. Both Ramirez and Gonzalez survived the Korean War fighting as soldiers in the Army. And though the two were strangers, Ramirez still feels compelled to reach out to the family of his fellow brother in arms.

"Tell them to forgive me for what happened. It wasn't intentional or anything like that. Like I said I'm not use to taking people's lives away. It just happened." said Ramirez.

"It's a little tragic and ironic that it happened. The downtown area was full of veterans yesterday and two of them collided unfortunately." said Claude Jessen.

Claude Jessen is Gonzalez's stepson who describes the Korean and Vietnam War vet as an active and social 81 year old who lived life to the fullest. Jessen says Gonzalez' spent 24 years on active duty and then became a certified nurse living in Southern California.

"He did some traveling. He liked going on cruises, but most of the time it was the volunteer work that he did at the VA and later on with the color guard. That was his love." said Jessen.

Since moving to the Kingsburg in 1990's Jessen says Gonzalez participated in dozens of military funerals up and down the state as part of the color guard. And in the end his family says he died on the day he cherished most.

Funeral services for Jesse Gonzalez will take place next Wednesday morning at the Kingsburg Cemetery. The public is invited to attend and Ramirez has not told us yet if he plans on attending.

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