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Mesa retirement community in shock after crash leaves couple dead

Posted at 5:33 AM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 08:33:12-04

MESA, AZ — Police say it was around 5:30 Tuesday evening when a minivan driven by 80-year-old Irma Hettich was T-boned by a car speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour.

Irma was driving through Mesa, headed north on Windsor while crossing Main Street.

The speeding car, police say, was headed west on Main Street when the crash occurred. The impact was on the passenger's side of the minivan, where 82-year-old Ronald Hettich was sitting.

Both Ronald and Irma died in the crash.

"Probably some of the kindest, most generous, most religious people that I've ever met," said Tony Leier, the couple's neighbor and friend.

Leier says he's known them for 13 years, moving into the Trail Riders complex at the same time.

He says the South Dakota snowbirds loved to host dinner parties and recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

"She made the most terrifically good chicken you ever want to eat," Leier said fondly.

"They hosted 60 people for supper at their place," Leier said. "That's just the kind of people they were."

"We loved them... We loved them dearly."

Resident Mike Rose saw the crash from his home Tuesday night.

"I heard a horrific boom — it sounded like tank cannons going off," Rose said. "I saw the headlights of the van rising up as high as the wall."

Rose and his wife called 911 and rushed to the scene, but it was already too late.

The driver of the other car, 21-year-old Gazane Cabrillas-Lape, is now facing two counts of second-degree murder along with aggravated assault.

Police say his female passenger may have sustained internal injuries but is expected to be OK.

A vigil was held Wednesday for Ronald and Irma. Residents say the pastor of the church they attended led the services.

"The whole park absolutely loved them," said resident and friend, Sherry Smith. "They were the most giving people."

"There's something about their warmth and their caring," she said.

Residents say the couple leaves behind two daughters, a son, and several grandchildren.

"We're just devastated, the whole park is devastated," she added.

Residents say they hope this story will move city officials enough to take a look at this stretch of roadway and implement more safety measures.

But the focus, for now, is on the loss of two dear friends.

"They're in heaven, they're together, and they're at peace," Smith said.