Passer-by comforts Victoria man in final moments of life
Most mornings, Eleno Hernandez was awake before the sun rose. He'd kiss his wife goodbye - she'd call him honey - and then head off to his favorite taqueria for a cup of coffee and a welcoming conversation with friends before work.
Tuesday morning was like any other day.
"Be safe," his wife of 15 years, Dolores Hernandez, called out before he walked out the front door. "I tell him that every morning," she said. "Be safe. Don't drive too fast."
Eleno Hernandez died early Tuesday evening of critical injuries he suffered in a head-on collision.
He was 53 years old.
Hernandez was southbound in the 6400 block of Upper Mission Valley Road when his vehicle, a 1994 blue Chevrolet Suburban, crossed the northbound lane and reached the far shoulder, officials said.
In an effort to correct the vehicle, he veered toward the southbound lane and crashed into a 2011 silver Dodge 3500 pickup.
'Angels are here'
Emily Dibrell didn't know the man bleeding in front of her. She was just on her way home and happened across two vehicles in a ditch by the road.
He was dying.
His breathing was slowing.
The car smelled like gasoline, but she still crawled into the Suburban to care for his wounds. "Honey, angels are here," she told him.
"God is with you.
"Help is on the way.
"Hang in there, honey ..."
The 31-year-old passer-by from Schroeder wasn't able to truly take in what she saw at the wreck - it was unlike anything she's seen before. The Suburban was smashed, and the dashboard was sitting in the man's lap.
"His body was broken," she said. "I was thinking about his family. I didn't know them. I didn't know his name, but I kept thinking about how they were going to feel."
Dibrell sat with Hernandez as they waited for the ambulance to arrive. "It could have been minutes, but it seemed a lot longer," she said about the time.
She checked his pulse.
It was getting weaker.
She kept talking to him as she wiped the blood continually coming from his mouth, "His breathing was raspy," she said. "I put my hand on his shoulder and started praying over him."
Dolores Hernandez knew something was wrong when two state troopers were waiting at her front door.
"Are you Mrs. Hernandez?" they asked her.
Yes, she nodded.
"Your husband was in a car crash," they said. "He did not survive."
A love story
Hernandez met her husband more than 18 years ago when he walked into the salon she was working at and asked for a haircut. At the time, he was a drinker. "I didn't like the way he smelled, and I told him."
Three years passed before she saw him again. He was sober, so she decided to let the cute mechanic help her tune up her car.
"You want to go for a ride?" he asked after fixing her vehicle. "... So we can test drive the truck," he continued.
The rest is, as they say, history. The two married Aug. 18 - his birthday.
"He always wanted to get married on his birthday," she said, smiling at the memory.
She would cook him a special dinner every year to celebrate his sobriety and his birthday - he loved her cooking, especially her mole and arroz.
The couple didn't have children together, but Dolores Hernandez had two sons from a previous marriage and a grandson her husband adored. "He would tell everybody that was his grandbaby," she said as her 9-year-old grandson, Jordan, lost himself in her embrace.
Jordan and his grandfather were fixing up a classic 1967 pickup. "I loved to ride around with him," he said. "I'm gonna miss that a lot."
In the front pew of Grace Funeral Home in Victoria on Friday, Dolores Hernandez and her two sons sat silently. As people entered, they would greet her with a hug, a kiss and a few words of condolence before heading to say goodbye to the man many knew as a brother, a friend or a family member.
He appeared to be peacefully sleeping in his casket. On it, a lone tan cowboy boot sat proudly with a black hat resting on top.
"I almost lost it when I went up there," Dibrell said.
Her purple dress was modest, and her short auburn hair was neatly curled, but her nerves were raging as she walked down the aisle to finally meet Dolores Hernandez, the wife of the man she comforted as he died Tuesday evening.
The only thing Hernandez wanted to know was that her husband was soothed in his final minutes, and as her hands clasped Dibrell's, she wept.
"I just have to ask," she said through her tears, "was he buckled?"
"Was he calm?" Hernandez asked.
"You could just tell he wasn't hurting," Dibrell said, putting her hand on her heart to show where she felt his heart beat. "He was peaceful."
In the week prior to the accident, Eleno Hernandez was tired, his sister-in-law, Olga Parsons, said. "He would just come home and fall asleep in the chair."
The family thinks he fell asleep at the wheel, she said. "He was working all the time. He was so tired."
The funeral home will transport Eleno Hernandez to the border, where Mexican officials will take him to his hometown of Tampico, Tamaulipas. Hernandez immigrated to the United States in 1987.
"He always said bury me wherever," Dolores Hernandez said. "But I told him, 'If your mom is living, I'm going to take you to Mexico.'"
"Eleno always said he was his mother's favorite," Hernandez said, affirming that it pains her greatly not to have her husband buried near her. "I'm going to take you home to Mexico," she said. "I love you, honey."