Southern California resident Candida Torre was devastated after she got into a crash that left the car she was driving so badly damaged it was deemed a total loss.
The car had belonged to her son, Jose Torre Jr., who died at 21 while serving in Iraq four years ago. The 2009 Nissan Cube was the first new car he owned, and he was proud of buying it with the money he earned as an Army soldier.
Huntington Beach police Officer John Baggs responded to the June 2 crash and noticed the car's Gold Star license plate, which signaled its owner had lost a family member who served in the military. Baggs knew this because he, too, had lost a loved one. His father died after serving in the Vietnam War.
After learning the story behind the car, Baggs shared it with the insurance company, Automobile Club of Southern California, which had declared the Cube a total loss. The car was turned over to Baggs, and thanks to Caliber Collision technicians who volunteered their personal time, the car received the repairs it needed.
More than five months later, on Veterans Day, Baggs reunited with Torre — but this time, there were tears of joy. Baggs surprised Torre with the keys to her son's car, shiny and fully restored with $18,000 worth of repairs.
"I'm just still in awe that they fixed it and it's here," Torre said. "I kind of thought I failed him because I was supposed to take care of it and grow old with it."
The big reveal came during a Gold Star meeting that the mother attended Wednesday. She was surrounded by her son's military buddies, her other son who lives out of town and several loved ones.
"She's very active in the Gold Star program; she helps out a lot of families, so she's got a huge heart and this car meant a lot to her, so I'm glad," Baggs said. "Now, hopefully, when she gets back into it, she'll think that a lot of people haven't forgotten and care about her."
When the mother sat behind the wheel again for the first time, she felt another connection as well.
"I feel him in it," Torre said, referring to her son. "I feel him in it, I do."
Torre was not hurt in the crash.
Vikki Vargas contributed to this report.