As the tow truck removed what was left of a demolished Toyota Corolla after a crash on Shirley Highway late Thursday night, no one realized that the body of a 10-year-old Woodbridge girl was still inside.
More than five hours later the child's body was discovered. "An autopsy will be done, but all indications are that she died on impact," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.
Veronica Covarrubias was one of six members of a Woodbridge family who were riding in the car when it was struck from behind in the center southbound lane of Shirley Highway just inside the Capital Beltway. The car had stopped in a line of traffic waiting for an opportunity to clear a late-night construction project.
The parents, Jose and Roxana Covarrubias, were listed in serious condition yesterday, a Fairfax Hospital spokeswoman said. A 1-year-old son, Paul, was in critical condition in pediatric intensive care and a 13-year-old daughter, also named Roxana, was listed in fair condition. A 3-year-old daughter, identified as Danitca, was treated for injuries.
While the parents and three of their children were rushed to Fairfax Hospital after the 11:15 p.m. Thursday crash, the car was taken to a towing company's storage lot.
The Covarrubiases' relatives began arriving at the hospital, and after accounting for the family members there asked where the fourth child was.
"We were saying, 'Impossible, we counted three,' " Trooper James L. Brinkley Jr. recalled. But relatives, who had seen the family shortly before the crash, insisted that a child was missing, he said.
"Was the child thrown?" the relatives wondered.
Brinkley returned to the crash site, just south of the Edsall Road interchange, where a 1973 Pontiac LeMans had slammed at 65 miles an hour into the rear of the Covarrubias car stopped in the center lane, Brinkley said.
He searched the area surrounding the crash site, but did not find Veronica. Relatives told him where each child had been sitting when the family left Falls Church for the return trip to Woodbridge. Veronica had been in the rear of the hatchback, they said.
"You mean to tell me the car was a hatchback?" Brinkley says he asked relatives in disbelief.
Rescue workers went to Franconia Towing and Storage on Vine Street in Alexandria and extricated Veronica's body from the twisted metal. "The metal had just rolled up" over the child, the trooper said. "The rear trunk came up in the front seat; that's how bad it was."
Rescue workers believe Veronica was asleep when the crash occurred, Brinkley said. "A little doll baby" was found near her body, he said.
Neighborhood friends remembered the skinny girl with the shoulder-length black hair who would have been in fourth grade this year at Kilby Elementary School. She couldn't always come out and play because both her parents worked, they said.
"If we asked her to go outside, she'd say: 'Oh, my mom's not home. I can't,' " Sharon Migliaccio, 12, said. "She liked to play with her sisters and her friends."
"Mostly she played with Barbies," said Robin Soto, 12.
Mohammad E. Islam, who was charged with reckless driving, told investigators he had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car, Brinkley said. The impact set off a chain reaction, pushing the Covarrubiases' car into another car, which hit a third car, Brinkley said.