Central High School coach out of jail after crash, vigil held for victims

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Valley high school coach has been arrested after a suspected drunk driving crash that killed a seven-year-old boy.

Seven-year-old Donovan Maldonado was killed in the crash. His two-year old sister Bella remains in critical condition in the hospital. Their father remains in fair condition.

The driver in the crash, 42-year-old Loren LeBeau, is potentially facing manslaughter and hit-and-run charges.

Donovan Maldonado would have been in the second grade at Liberty Elementary. Dozens gathered there to remember the energetic young athlete and to pray for his family members still in the hospital.

Dozens of mourners gathered to remember seven-year-old Donovan Maldonado Thursday evening.

"Donovan was unique. He always wanted to keep moving, always wanted to move," parent Aaron Ensminger said.

Aaron Ensminger's daughter was in Donovan's class, the same classroom Ensminger volunteered in.

"He was a good kid - he will never be forgotten," Ensminger said.

Donovan and his two-year-old sister Bella were struck while on bicycles Wednesday night. They were with their family in this crosswalk at Shepherd near Millbrook in Northeast Fresno.

Their father, Jesse Maldonado, was also struck. Fresno police say Donovan was dragged several hundred yards by a white car.

Donovan passed away several hours after the crash.

An hour before the accident, Donovan had been practicing on a youth football field at Clovis West High School.

His coach, Kyle Koontz, says Donovan's dad Jesse also coached on the team. Thursday evening Donovan's coaches canceled practice for the week. Teammates held candles at the vigil.

"He was a little guy, but he had a big heart. You put him there, he'd do anything, play any position. He would make big hits and big runs," Koontz said.

Fresno police arrested 42-year-old Loren LeBeau for driving under the influence when they say he struck the family with his car.

Investigators say LeBeau failed a filed sobriety test at the scene and smelled of alcohol.

He has since bailed out of jail and his newly-hired attorney says the Central High School boys basketball coach is devastated by the incident.

"We are just beginning our investigation into the circumstances of what occurred last night," attorney Jeff Hammerschmidt said. "Mr. LeVeau is devastated that he was involved in an accident in which a child passed away and a couple of other people were injured."

LeBeau faces potential manslaughter charges. He is expected in court August 9.

In the meantime, parents, teammates and young friends are praying as two families struggle to grasp their tragic new realities.

Donovan's coaches tell Action News they will be placing the number seven, Donovan's number, on the team's helmets to remember him.


Families who live near the crosswalk where the deadly accident happened say they are concerned about the crossing's safety.

It's located on Shepherd near Millbrook in Northeast Fresno.

Action News was at the scene all afternoon and evening and watched this memorial grow as people continually drop off flowers and post signs.

Action News was also there to see pedestrians and cyclists cautiously cross the road where the accident took place.

Eddie Quan crosses the rail trail a lot, sometimes at night, and even though he's got a bright light on his bike he worries cars can't see him.

"I don't know if pedestrians know they have right of way to cross, but do cars know pedestrians have the right of way?" Quan said.

In daylight signs say "cross traffic does not stop". There are bicycle crossing signs too. But at night, some say those signs aren't so visible.

"If it was lit up more or we had more reflectors or something to say this is a cross walk maybe in another situation it wouldn't have happened," Quan said.

On Thursday night Loren LeBeau's attorneys were back at the scene reconstructing the accident, taking pictures of a light that appeared to be out.

Trail goers are extra cautious. 10-year-old Katie wasn't allowed out of the house without a reflective shirt: "so people could see me going across the street".

"People come down really fast and unless you live around here and know about it its hard to see. Other places have lit up crosswalks here it pops out of nowhere," Giovanni Lares of Fresno said.

On Thursday Action News also witnessed a minor rear-end collision - a driver who slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a bicyclist in broad daylight.


42-Year-old Loren LeBeau bailed out of jail on a $256 thousand bond late Thursday morning.

Hours after seven year old Donovan Maldonado's death, friends and community members created a memorial filled with flowers and a football, to remember his life. The little boy died after being hit on his bike just a few feet away.

Sixteen year old Kyle Jimenez stopped by the memorial to pay his respects. Jimenez didn't know the family, but he and his friends were some of the first people on the scene.

"There was a baby in the middle of the road and the dad and he was screaming for Donovan. It was really sad," said Kyle Jimenez.

Jimenez says he felt the need to help the injured family and young kids, when he saw something on the crosswalk.

"I thought it was a doll honestly. I got out and stopped the traffic so they wouldn't come any further," Jimenez said.

That doll was a young girl. Sources tell us it was the 2 year old sister of Donovan.

"This is kind of a dangerous crossway, because it gets really dark at night," Jimenez said referring to the crosswalk where Maldonado was killed on Shepherd near Millbrook.

Friends of the Maldonado family say they were very active and enjoyed riding their bikes. They say it's hard to believe a night outside ended so tragic.

"It was devastating that something so tragic could hit so close to home," said Tricia Funk about the death of Donovan.

Tricia Funk has known the Maldonado family for the past three years. Her son was good friends with Donovan through Liberty Elementary School and sports.

"Donovan was very, very passionate about life. He loved sports. You would always see Donovan with a ball or a bat or a football," Funk said.

She says Donovan was a special kid who lived life to the fullest and that his presence will be greatly missed.

"I don't think anybody, any mother can imagine our children being taken so soon and so suddenly. It just leaves a gap and the a void in all of our hearts and in the community, in our school Liberty. It's just not going to be the same. There is going to be something missing," Funk said.

(Copyright ©2014 KFSN-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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