Highway Patrol

‘If You're Going to Drink, Stay Home': Heartbroken Hawthorne Family Speaks About New Year's Day Crash

The GoFundMe has raised nearly $52,000 to help pay for funeral expenses.

What to Know

  • The suspect, who had just celebrated his 30th birthday New Year's Eve, was seen struggling with officers following the arrest.
  • The 9-year-old and her mother were leaving a New Year's Eve celebrated when the crash occurred just after midnight.
  • The family is furious, pleading with the public to not get behind the wheel while drinking so no one else must suffer as they are now.

Daniel Castillo is starting the New Year mourning the loss of his 9-year-old daughter and her mother, killed by a suspected drunken driver New Year’s Day.

"I can't even explain what I have to go through now," he said. "And I don't wish it upon anybody."

Through tears, Castillo shares the agony he’s feeling after his estranged wife, 33-year old Joleen Gardner Castillo, and his 9-year-old daughter Payton, were killed early Tuesday by a suspected drunk driver on the 22 Freeway in Garden Grove.

"If you’re going to drink, stay home. Or find someone to get you. Don’t get in that car and drive," he said through sobs.

Amazingly, Castillo’s 7-year-old son, who was in the back seat, survived the crash with no injuries.

"He’s got an angel that day. Not one scratch," his grandfather Juan Alvarez said.


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The 30-year-old driver, Melvin Branch of Orange, was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

California Highway Patrol investigators say Branch, who had just celebrated his 30th birthday on New Year’s Eve, is suspected of driving while intoxicated and causing the four-vehicle wreck.

The 22 Freeway was shut down for 10 hours after Branch’s BMW, said to be speeding in the carpool lane heading westbound just east of Valley View Street, crashed into the back of a Lexus 50 minutes after midnight.

The Lexus hit the center divider. Branch’s BMW then rear-ended the 2010 Ford F-150 truck carrying the Castillos, forcing it to flip, CHP said.

As the Ford kept skidding across lanes, it hit a Mazda.

The drivers in the other vehicles were not hurt, but Joleen and Payton were killed.

Police say after his arrest, Branch broke the window of a police cruiser and was wrestled to the ground by officers, as seen in video.

Joleen, a mother of three, was a teacher’s aide at Juan De Anza Elementary school, where her daughter was a fourth grader.

"She was a good woman. She was loved," Alvarez said.

Payton's father says she loved to draw, play sports, and dance.

"She was one of a kind and I don’t have her no more. I don’t want anyone to have to go through this. It’s not fair," Castillo said.

Branch is expected to be arraigned Thursday in Orange County on charges of driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter. He is being held on $100,000 bail. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for the victims’ funerals. You can donate or find more information here. It had raised nearly $52,000 by late Sunday morning. 

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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