Father is killed by tree while waiting in traffic on way to job clearing snow

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 6:50 PM

Oswaldo Hernandez-Cruz was thrilled Wednesday afternoon when he got the call from a buddy that they'd scored a job clearing snow in D.C. His work as a roofer has been slow, and he has three children to support.

So he and three friends packed up some food and piled into a gray Ford pickup, ready to work all night in the storm.

But once they hit the District, traffic was unbearable. As they sat in the dark, trapped in a tangle of unmoving cars - just like tens of thousands of others across the region - a tree was suddenly uprooted next to their truck. It crashed onto the driver's side of the pickup, killing Hernandez-Cruz, 41.

On Thursday, his family sat stunned in their Hyattsville apartment, trying to come to grips with the shocking odds of such a freak accident.

"I never thought something like this could happen," said his daughter, Celia Hernandez, 16, crying into the phone from her home in Canada. "He was a great man. We loved him and he loved us."

The other three people in the truck - a woman, her husband, and her husband's brother - were injured in the accident, which occurred about 7:30 p.m. in a westbound lane in the 1700 block of Military Road NW.

Some thick branches of the tree hit another car, injuring two others.

Celia Hernandez was on the phone trying to console her brother Bryan, 8, who lived with their father and other family members in Hyattsville.

Hernandez-Cruz, originally from Guatemala, had lived in Hyattsville for about a year. He and his family had lived in California for almost 20 years before moving to Maryland because work had slowed down on the West Coast, his family said.

His wife of 20 years, Ana de Paz, sobbed in the living room of their apartment, trying to explain how happy he was when he left for work Wednesday.

He had jobs clearing snow in Baltimore during last year's storms, but he was relieved that he was going to D.C. on Wednesday because it's not as far from home.

"He was so happy to have work because there hasn't been much work," De Paz said. "He said, 'I'm going to Washington,' and he was happy because it's closer."

He packed up a pork chop fillet and some black beans and rice he had cooked for dinner and headed out. He kissed his family and said he'd be home when the job was done.

"I never imagined his life would be cut short," said De Paz, who works cleaning office buildings.

Her cousin Lucy Ceron cuddled her newborn baby and said Hernandez-Cruz was the cook in the family, tinkering in the kitchen every day and creating large meals for everyone. His specialty was seafood.

He was a hard worker when there were jobs to be had, and when he wasn't on the clock, he cooked and watched telenovelas with his wife and cousin.

He talked about moving back to Guatemala, but his family said they weren't sure whether he was joking around or was serious about the idea. Now, they said, they'll never know.

On Facebook, Celia posted a song in memory of her father called "Daddy's Little Girl" by Frankie J. She posted it next to a picture of the two of them.

"Daddy, Daddy, don't leave," it begins.

kleinallison@washpost.com

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