'It doesn't feel real': Family recalls loved ones lost in fiery car wreck which killed 2, including 15-year-old

Mar. 17—Alfonso Duarte's five daughters and two sons always heard their father repeat one truth: Be grateful we have each other, he would say, and no one's dead.

Even if money ran tight, said Duarte's daughter Silvia Ponce, 19, on Friday, she had the companionship of four sisters and two brothers.

But earlier this month, the family's worst fears were realized: sisters Jennifer Duarte, 15, and Karime Duarte, 21, were killed in a fiery car wreck which also left the eldest sister Diana Ponce, 23, battling severe injuries. Their dog, a small chihuahua named Clio, also died.

"The first three days, I was crying a lot and throwing up," Silvia Ponce said as she sniffled tears. "After, that I couldn't even cry anymore. I couldn't feel anymore, it doesn't feel real."

Answers about the sisters' last moments prove elusive for the grieving family.

Diana Ponce contracted with a company that delivered newspapers, said Alfonso Duarte, whose remarks in Spanish were translated by daughter Silvia Ponce. The late working hours meant he constantly kept tabs on Diana while she embarked on her paper route.

But on March 3, Diana and Karime Ponce called their father to tell him two cars followed them, Silvia Ponce said. Alfonso Duarte said he heard screaming on the call before it dropped, which prompted him to rush to their location.

He was greeted with a car engulfed in flames but managed to follow a vehicle carrying Diana Ponce to Kern Medical, Alfonso Duarte said. Only 12 hours later did the father learn his daughters died, he added.

The Bakersfield Police Department said in a March 4 news release the sisters didn't stop at a dead-end on McKee Road and collided into a Dodge truck on Highway 99. Adult passengers riding in the Dodge were also seriously injured and taken to the hospital, police wrote.

Jennifer — known as Jenni to her family — and her sister Karime Duarte died in the car. Somehow, Diana Ponce managed to escape, a feat described by Silvia Ponce as a "miracle."

Out of Diana Ponce's six broken ribs, it would have taken only one to puncture her lung and for her to die, Silvia Ponce said doctors told her. With a broken foot, it seems impossible Diana Ponce managed to evade vicious flames without help.

It's unclear what happened to those riding in the Dodge truck.

Police also declined to issue new details in the case or confirm the family's account. Bakersfield Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Robert Pair said the crash is still under investigation.

But one fact is clear: Young lives, shining with promise and new experiences, were taken.

Quiet 15-year-old Jenni excelled at her classes at Golden Valley High School and always finished her homework immediately after arriving home from school. She wanted to excel in school, dreamed of becoming a doctor and was always laughing with her older sisters, said Silvia Ponce.

"She would do everything they would do, basically," Silvia Ponce said.

Karime Duarte longed to save enough money to enroll in beauty school where she could perhaps learn to style people's nails or learn about eyelash extensions, Silvia Ponce added. The 21-year-old often cooked elaborate meals, such as a hefty Thanksgiving dinner, for her family.

"They meant everything to me," Silvia Ponce said.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @_ishanidesai on Twitter.