They were finally able to get away from school and work, spending a week together at the beach, eating crabs and relaxing as they kicked off summer vacation.
On their way back to New Jersey, however, tragedy struck on a Delaware highway, as a horrific car crash took the lives of five of the six Trinidad family members — including all four daughters.
Audie Trinidad, 61, and his four daughters, ages 13 to 20, died when their minivan struck a heavy-duty pickup truck that had crossed the grassy median on Delaware Highway 1, one of the state’s busiest highways.
Mary Rose Ballocanag, Trinidad’s 53-year-old wife and mother of their children, was in the passenger seat and survived. She remained in serious condition at a Delaware hospital on Saturday.
Devastated relatives gathered Saturday at the family’s Teaneck home to process the tragic news.
Trinidad and Ballocanag both came to America from the Philippines more than 30 years ago.
Their four daughters, Kaitlyn, 20; Danna, 17; and 13-year-old twins, Melissa and Allison, attended school in Teaneck.
The family was identified by Audie Trinidad’s brother, Danny, who arrived in Teaneck on Saturday from his home in North Miami Beach, Florida.
“How do you bury five people at the same time?” asked Danny Trinidad. “This is like a tragedy a hundred times over.”
Trinidad said the family was coming back from a vacation when the crash happened. It’s believed they were vacationing in Ocean City, Maryland.
Audie Trinidad was driving a 1999 Toyota Sienna minivan north on Highway 1 near Townsend, Delaware, when it collided with a Ford F-350, driven by a 44-year-old Maryland man, Delaware State Police said in a press release.
An off-duty firefighter who witnessed the crash said the utility truck had crossed the median and struck another car before the family’s minivan plowed into its side.
Danny Trinidad said he last spoke to his brother on Father’s Day. He received a photo of the family eating blue crabs on July 4.
He got the call about the accident late Friday, he said.
“When you get a call at 12 midnight, it can’t be good,” he said.
The Trinidad family
Trinidad and Ballocanag met in New York after coming to the United States in the 1980s. Trinidad, a U.S. Navy veteran, was a postal worker in the Bronx. Ballocanag is a nurse at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan.
Kaitlyn, known as Nikki, was a student at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx. Danna was a junior at Teaneck High School. The twins, Melissa and Allison, attended Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Teaneck.
Danny Trinidad’s 85-year-old mother, Naty, had gone to the Philippines in May and was planning to return later this month. He and other relatives were still trying to figure out how to tell her the heartbreaking news about her oldest son and her four granddaughters.
“She helped raise the kids,” Trinidad said.
Another brother, Nelson, lives in Teaneck.
Nelson’s daughter, Kim Trinidad, had lived with Audie Trinidad’s family for four years, since graduating from nursing school in the Philippines. She works at Care One in Teaneck.
“They left without waking me up on Monday,” Kim recalled of the family’s vacation departure. “I think they left about six in the morning.”
Danna sent Kim a text at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, stating they had encountered some traffic but planned to arrive home by 6 p.m. It was the last the family heard from them.
Danny Trinidad said the family loved going on vacations together in the summer, when everyone was on break.
“They were a close-knit family,” Trinidad said. “It was always a family affair.”
Police said the father and mother in the vehicle were wearing seat belts; the four daughters were not.
A third car was also involved in the accident. Its driver, a 24-year-old man from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated and released with non-life threatening injuries.
‘The worst one I’ve seen’
Delaware State Police spokesman Cpl. Melissa Jaffe said the driver of the truck, a 44-year-old man from East New Market, Maryland, will not be identified by authorities unless charges are filed.
Larry DuHadaway, an off-duty firefighter who witnessed the crash and tried to help the victims, described the scene to the Delaware News Journal, a USA Today network paper, late Friday.
“I’ve been in business 28 years,” DuHadaway said. “It’s the worst one I’ve seen.”
DuHadaway, who works as a full-time firefighter in Howard County, Maryland, and volunteers with the Christiana Fire Company in New Castle County, Delaware, was driving to the beach for the weekend with his family.
He was about four vehicles behind a utility truck that began veering in the left lane.
First, it swerved into the left shoulder, he said, touching the rumble strips before moving back into the middle of the lane. Suddenly, the vehicle “went 10 o’clock across the median,” veering across the grassy strip that separates northbound and southbound lanes.
What happened next was what DuHadaway described as “horrific.”
When the truck hit the grassy median, it went airborne, DuHadaway said.
As it entered lanes of oncoming traffic, it clipped a white sedan and turned sideways, perpendicular to northbound traffic. The minivan carrying the Trinidad family broadsided the truck, flipping over the work vehicle on impact, the firefighter said.
DuHadaway, along with many others, quickly stopped along the busy roadway, where the crash scene would close Highway 1 and create a 17-mile backup. DuHadaway immediately called 911 and started what he described as “rapid triage.”
“There were many, many, many bystanders and people that stopped to help,” he said. “But I’m a paramedic as well and I’m the only first responder there.”
“I felt kind of helpless, to be honest.”
A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for Mary Rose. As of early Saturday evening, the effort had raised nearly three times its $10,000 goal.
A candlelight vigil was planned for 9 p.m. Saturday at Milton Votee Park in Teaneck.
“The Lord took too many angels from us yesterday. Audie, Kaitlyn, (Danna), Allison and Melissa Trinidad. Rest In Peace,” the Filipino American Society of Teaneck posted on its Facebook page.