Family grieves after Brian Hernandez-Chavez dies in alleged drunken-driving case

January 17, 2012

Their paths probably crossed many times in the small Alexandria community where they lived. Maria Chavez and Victor Aldana would walk to work each morning, she as a hotel housekeeper, he as a cashier at the fast-food restaurant next door.

On Sunday afternoon, Chavez and her 8-year-old son were walking home from nearby Landmark Mall when a car Aldana was driving jumped a curb, flew across the grass and plowed over them, police say. His blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit, according to prosecutors.

Brian Hernandez-Chavez, a third-grader, was killed.

Maria Chavez broke a hip and both legs. Still in a hospital, she has been told that her son is dead but continues to ask for him. Meanwhile, the family is making his funeral arrangements.

“I can’t believe he’s not with us anymore,” said Maria Yanez, Brian’s grandmother, who helped raise him. “Maybe it was destiny, maybe that’s why he was taken from us. We’ll ask God for strength.”


Maria Chavez (Courtesy of Chavez Family)

Aldana does not have a driver’s license, police said. He was charged with manslaughter, drunken driving and other counts, and was ordered held without bond at a hearing Tuesday in Alexandria General District Court. The case was referred to the city’s public defender’s office; an attorney for Aldana could not be located.

He was not injured in the incident, police said.

Chavez and her son were making the 10-minute trek from the mall to their Lincolnia home when they were hit as they walked on a footpath alongside Duke Street near Interstate 395. Brian had begged his mother to take him to play video games on a cold, lazy Sunday because he wanted to get out of the apartment, Yanez said.

Brian, who attended Weyanoke Elementary School, was Chavez’s only child. He had always been the center of her world — even more so since November, when her husband went to Mexico for several months, Yanez said.

Yanez said that Chavez knows what happened to her son but that she still asks for him throughout the day and wonders who is taking care of him. “When she’s awake, she’s asking, asking for him,” Yanez said.

After Brian was born, Chavez stayed home with him until he was 4 years old, when she got a job alongside Yanez cleaning rooms at the Days Inn just off Little River Turnpike. The hotel is a short walk from each of their modest apartments.

At lunchtime, the housekeepers would often stroll to the KFC where Aldana worked six days a week, said Ana Hernandez, an assistant manager. Aldana and Chavez didn’t know each other well, she said, but he would sometimes serve her chicken.

Hernandez said she found out about the accident Monday. When the housekeeping staff came into the restaurant, she said, one person was crying because a friend had lost her son. “I said: ‘Oh my God! That’s what happened!’ ” Hernandez said. “Now I know why he didn’t come to work.”

Hernandez said she was heartbroken — sad for Chavez and Brian, and also for Aldana, who called her “Mom.”

“I feel sorry for both of them,” she said. “She loses her son, and he probably loses the rest of his life.”

On Saturday, Hernandez said, Aldana asked for her advice about whether to move back to Miami to live with his parents. By the end of the shift, he had decided that he wanted to. “He’s a nice guy. I treated him like my son,” she said. “He was always in a good mood.”

Hernandez said she never knew Aldana to drive, and police said the Honda involved in the accident was his roommate’s. Originally from Guatemala, Aldana was in the country legally, police said.

Yanez said she was so distraught about the accident that she declined to speak about the coincidence of Aldana and Chavez being acquaintances.

She was trying to arrange a funeral for Brian and figure out how to have his body sent to Mexico afterward.

Brian’s father, Alejandro Hernandez, is in Mexico because he was building a house for Brian, so his son would always have a home there, Yanez said. She said that he is trying to come back for the funeral but that he doesn’t have enough money for a plane ticket.

Yanez said Hernandez, her son, took the news hard. Her son and grandson were close, sharing a passion for soccer. When Hernandez would get decked out in soccer gear to watch his favorite team, Chivas Guadalajara, on television, Brian would be beside him in matching gear.

But Brian was also enamored of American culture, his grandmother said. His favorite foods were pizza and hamburgers, and his favorite toy was his Game Boy. The family was planning a pizza party for Brian’s birthday in May.

Yanez said she doesn’t know how the family will pay her daughter-in-law’s medical bills. Chavez doesn’t have health coverage, and she will be in the hospital for several more weeks, then in a wheelchair for about four months.

The family was planning to put a picture of Brian with a donation box in a Latino grocery store near their home, but they have been so overwhelmed that they haven’t made it out of the house to ask the store owners.

“We need strength,” Yanez said.

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