Ironic link for two grieving Fresno County families in prescription drug DUI deaths

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Ironic link for two grieving families in prescription drug DUI deaths
Two Fresno County families were torn apart in a single day in the same fashion, in crashes miles apart.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two Fresno County families were torn apart in a single day in the same fashion, in crashes miles apart. Two drivers on prescription drugs are accused of killing three people.

Action News first reported about Jeannine and Ken Balderrama dying on Friday up near Millerton Lake. But hours earlier, David Torres was also killed in Central Fresno.

"He was taken from us very traumatically, very suddenly," said his daughter Brittney Torres. "We didn't prepare for this. Nobody prepares for this."

The families of both victims are slowly coming to grips with life after the death of a loved one in suspected DUI crashes. But there was no alcohol involved in either collision and one man is involved in both tragedies.

Denise Lago stayed seated as her attorney entered a not guilty plea on her behalf Tuesday. The 38-year-old has spinal issues she treats with prescription drugs. Investigators say drugs like Xanax and Fentanyl impaired her driving, leading to the crash that killed Ken and Jeannine Balderrama. Her attorney says it may not be so black and white.

"Some cases are in gray areas and can be litigated that this in fact could be an accident," said her defense attorney Ralph Torres.

But Ralph Torres isn't just Lago's defense attorney. He actually stumbled upon her case while checking the Internet for news on his cousin. As it happens, David Torres died hours before the Balderramas.

"It's a very horrific day for me in terms of losing a loved one in my family," Ralph Torres said.

David Torres was stopped at a red light on Shields and Blackstone when Alyssa Gonzales, 18, slammed into him, and investigators say it happened because she was also impaired by Xanax. Police say people often forget how intoxicating prescription drugs can be, but drug labels typically warn against driving.

"Just angry that an individual could be so careless and selfish to take this drug and destroy our family," said Brittney Torres.

David leaves behind three children and four grandkids, with a fifth on the way. He left Texas in his twenties, went to work for Ralph's dad at Torres Fence, and did everything he could to support his family. And as they grieve, even his 8-year-old granddaughter is suffering from regret, apologizing in a letter to him for the times she forgot to hug him, and lamenting the love they've all lost.

"You left me," said young Lillian. "You left me with tears. I still love you."

The Torres family tells Action News they're hoping for the maximum sentence against Gonzales. She'll make her first court appearance Wednesday.

Balderrama family donations:

Torres family donations: