FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Vehicular manslaughter charges have now been filed against a driver, nearly a year after a 14-year-old rising softball star from Hanford West High school was killed in a crash in Fresno County.
Investigators say the suspect ran a stop sign in Fresno County.
For the first time, we're hearing from the young victim's parents, including her mom who was also severely injured.
In the heart of the Cardona home, memories of 14-year-old Marissa Cardona are all around.
Softball helmets that were sent to the family from colleges across the nation sit on shelves.
Next to them are gloves she and her dad collected throughout the years.
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"I told her, if you're going to love the game, love every aspect of it. Make it a hobby. Make it yours." Rocky Cardona, Marissa's dad said.
Her Dirt Dogs jersey from her travel softball team is perfectly placed behind a piece of glass.
"That was her bat she used," Rocky pointed out.
The Hanford West High School freshman was an up-and-coming softball star.
She was known for her sense of humor and being the big sister to then 10-year-old twin brothers Matthew and Martin.
On the field, she was known as Swaggy P.
One season, her team got new uniforms and her pants were baggy.
She was worried about it, but then had one of the best tournaments she ever played.
"Her team said it was the pants, you know? So, they started calling her Swaggy P for 'swaggy pants' and it just stuck." Rocky explained.
On Friday, March 4th, 2022, Rocky picked Marissa up from practice and took her to her hitting lesson at a nearby facility.
In a rare move, Marissa asked her dad to pitch to her that night.
"I mean, if I would've know what was going to happen, you know, I would've pitched to her all night." Rocky said holding back tears.
The next morning, Marissa and her mom Leticia headed to her softball tournament at Buchanan High School.
Her dad was taking her brothers to their opening ceremonies for baseball and planned to meet up with them later in the day.
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As Leticia headed west on Mount Whitney Avenue, just west of Laton, authorities say Ashely Engen was headed north on Cedar with her daughter in the car when she ran a stop sign, hitting Leticia and Marissa.
Everyone involved in the crash was rushed to the hospital with severe injuries, except Marissa, who died at the scene.
Rocky says he knew something was wrong when her softball coaches called to find out why Marissa wasn't at the field.
He called Clovis Police, Fresno Police and then the California Highway Patrol and gave them his wife's license plate number.
"They just told me I had to get to the hospital." Rocky said.
Leticia had a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for nearly two weeks.
She broke her right femur and ankle and fractured a vertebrae.
She also required a tracheotomy to help her breathe.
The grieving mother was hospitalized for two months.
Nearly a year later, she's still healing.
"It's hard for me to do anything, even just have a conversation it's hard." Leticia said.
Leticia said her sister is constantly around to help with her care while Rocky continues to work to support their family.
And it's now her two sons, and the memory of Marissa, that keeps her going.
"I can hear her telling me like, 'Don't give up mama, you can do it.' So, I do it for her." Leticia said.
At the end of January, Engen was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for Marissa's death.
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"It's been a long time coming. It's been going on a year now," Rocky said. "Hopefully we can get some justice for her, you know?"
For now, the Cardonas are focused on helping Leticia recover and keeping Marissa's memory alive through tattoos, stickers, and her story.
"Everybody knows her story, and they'll continue to know it, you know? As long as I'm here." Rocky said.
Engen is scheduled to appear in court in April.
The Cardonas say they're grateful for the community that has rallied behind their family and continues to keep Marissa's memory alive.
On March 18th, a special memorial for Marissa will be installed at Hanford West High School's softball field.
A ceremony will be held at 2 pm. The public is welcome to attend.
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