18-year-old driver's loving heart touches family and strangers

by: COURTESY PHOTO: GARCIA FAMILY - Cinthya Garcia takes a selfie with Juan, her disabled 10-year-old cousin, using the tablet she and her father bought him at Fred Meyer. When family gatherings get too happy and noisy for Juan, said cousin Zoraida Vidal, he would start crying and Cinthya would hug him and say Its okay.Juan Dominguez-Vidal wants to know where “Tee-ta” is.

The boy’s mother, Beatriz Vidal, can’t bear to tell him that his beloved 18-year-old cousin is in jail.

That’s because 10-year-old Juan is developmentally delayed and his cousin, Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros, plays a huge role in his life. Like the grieving mother of the two girls she allegedly killed last week, Cinthya has a heart for kids with special needs.

For much of her life, Cinthya has been a primary caretaker for Juan, who can’t speak or go to the bathroom and has trouble walking. She used to wake up early to rub anti-seizure cream onto his back, then dress him, change his diaper and get him ready for school before she went off to school herself.

That was during the seven years Cinthya, her father and brother lived in a small apartment connected to Juan’s Cornelius home—the home they left a few months ago to move to their own house in Forest Grove, a few blocks from the old Central School.

Even when his mother was at home, there were times when Juan would let only Cinthya change his diaper. And she was the only person who consistently understood his garbled sounds.

“She’s patient with the kids,” Beatriz said. “I get frustrated.”

Cinthya’s cousin Zoraida Vidal, who has also tried to care for Juan, marvels that Cinthya does it so well. “It’s just very, very difficult,” she said. “You have to have the loving heart.”

On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 20, Cinthya Garcia (neither Cinthya nor her brother, Mario, uses the Cisneros part of their name, which comes from their long-absent mother) was driving the car that struck and killed two stepsisters, 11-year-old Abigail Robinson and 6-year-old Anna Dieter-Eckerdt, who appear to have been playing or hiding in a giant pile of leaves that extended into the street on the 1700 block of Main Street in Forest Grove, in front of Central School.

Cinthya, currently in the Washington County Jail on a $10,000 bond, has been charged with two counts of failure to perform the duties of a driver, commonly known as “hit and run,” according to Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herb.

It’s a class C felony and is punishable by up to five years in prison, Herb said. by: COURTESY PHOTO: KOIN NEWS - Cinthya Garcia appears in an orange jail jumpsuit behind glass for her arraignment on a hit and run charge. Her tearful cousin, Beatriz Vidal, wishes people knew all the good things Cinthya has done. I wish I could be on TV so I could tell everyone what she is like because everyone thinks she is a bad person, she said.

Cinthya will not be released from jail even if she can post bail because in addition to the criminal charges, she has an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer against her.

According to immigration attorney Courtney Carter, Cinthya was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child, but recently applied for and received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) granted by President Barack Obama. Her drivers license, social security number and work permit are all valid, at least during the two-year DACA program.

If Cinthya is convicted of felonies, however, her DACA status will be revoked, Carter said. “The deportation proceedings would be swift and there’s nothing I can do,” she said.

If the charges are downgraded and Cinthya is convicted of something less, Carter might be able to prevent her deportation.

The criminal case was assigned to Washington County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Kohl. County prosecutor Bracken McKey will represent the state while attorney Ethan Levi will represent Cinthya. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, in the Washington County Courthouse.

“Cinthya loves children,” Levi said. “She is saddened beyond belief that her actions could have injured, let alone killed, two children playing together in a pile of leaves on a fall evening.”

“We’re all heartbroken,” Zoraida Vidal said. “Because she has to live with this for the rest of her life. She’s got to have help to get her through this.”

All-around helper

Cinthya’s father, Mario Garcia, says he brought Cinthya and her brother, Mario Jr., to the United States from Mexico City when she was 4 and her brother was 3 and their mother was not part of their lives. He raised the children alone, with help from his niece, Beatriz, who taught Cinthya how to cook.

By the time she was 12, Cinthya was voluntarily cooking and cleaning and taking care of household duties for her brother and father, who worked long hours, Garcia said.

“She was like my sister and also like the mother I didn’t have,” said Mario Jr., 17, who was finally able to visit his sister in jail this week.

Garcia tries to visit his daughter as often as possible. When he goes, he said, “I try to be strong. If she sees me crying, it will hurt her.”

Cinthya, who attended both Echo Shaw and Joseph Gale elementary schools, continued through the Forest Grove School District until graduating in 2012. She did her senior project at Forest Grove High School on how to make churros, a Mexican pastry.

“I love her,” said science teacher Tammy Johnson. “She’s outgoing, kind-hearted, just a wonderful young woman. She liked to laugh. She liked to make others laugh. She wasn’t a standout as a student—she was a standout as a personality.”

Johnson, who hopes to visit Cinthya in jail soon, remembers trying to demonstrate an old vacuum pump for a class full of freshmen. She couldn’t get it started so reached into the machine to tinker with it—and her hand got stuck.

“My entire class of freshmen just sat there staring, with their mouths wide open,” Johnson said. “I was like ‘Ow. Ow.’”

It was clear she was in trouble. But nobody moved. Then Cinthya happened to walk in.

by: COURTESY PHOTO: GARCIA FAMILY - Cinthya Garcia knows how to dress up and likes to make other people look good too by cutting hair and painting nails. Her Spanish teacher, Sally Soper, notes with wry amusement that Cinthya would occasionally take an extended bathroom break to do her nails.“She said, ‘Are you okay?’” Johnson recalls. “She unplugged the machine. She helped me get my hand out.” Later that day, Cinthya came back to check on Johnson.

As with many teachers who know both Cinthya Garcia and Susan Dieter-Robinson, the mother of the two girls who died, the accident is a double catastrophe for Johnson. “My heart just breaks for all of them. I know Susan. I serve coffee with her at church. It really is a tragedy.”

In her senior year, Cinthya applied for and was accepted into the elite “elementary peer tutor” program, where she worked with kindergartners in small groups and one-on-one at Joseph Gale, said special-education teacher Kathryn Taplin.

Teachers had only positive feedback for her work there, Taplin said.

Food run turns tragic

Cinthya spent the past nine months studying at the Northwest School of Beauty in Hillsboro, Levi said, hoping to one day start her own salon.

At the time of the accident, she had just gotten a job at Sonic Drive-in in Cornelius, Levi said, and was set to start working in a few days.

Sunday, Oct. 20, she, Mario Jr. and her boyfriend, Mario Echeverria, went to Sonic for dinner. They were coming back, with Cinthya at the wheel of a silver Nissan Pathfinder belonging to Echeverria’s mother, when she drove through a large pile of leaves that extended into the street.

When interviewed by police, both teens initially denied any knowledge of the crash.

They eventually admitted driving through the leaves but told police they were not aware that two girls were lying in the pile.

In their statements, Echeverria said he heard a bump when the vehicle drove into the leaves and Cinthya “said the bump was enough to cause her to be concerned that she had damaged the vehicle.” After she got home she had Echeverria check for damage.

According to Echeverria, it was Mario Jr. who found out that the “bump” had tragic repercussions when he walked back to the scene. He returned home with the news that his sister had run over a child.

Cynthia shared an interest with one of the two children killed in the accident.

Abigail Robinson — Abby to most people — had a special compassion for disabled children and participated in the Community Based Alternatives Program, a Forest Grove-based summer day camp that mixes disabled and non-disabled children.

Abby’s mother, Susan Dieter-Robinson, is an Adapted Physical Education specialist who works with disabled children in the Forest Grove School District.

Where’s Tee-ta?

Cinthya’s main experience teaching disabled children was with Juan, who managed to sit through her short but repeated attempts to teach him letters, numbers, colors and names. “Say ‘Cinthya,’” she would try.

“Tee-ta,” was the closest Juan could come.

Now, whenever Garcia walks in the door to visit, or whenever his phone rings while he’s there, Juan perks up and asks “Tee-ta? Tee-ta?”

The phone rang recently when Juan had been trying to say something and was becoming frustrated because no one could understand him.

This time Cinthya was on the line, calling from jail. Garcia handed the phone to Juan, who immediately became calm, listened quietly and made sounds for ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ then finally handed the phone back.

Cinthya explained to her father that Juan “was trying to tell me he wants to do Halloween things,” Garcia said.

Since the accident, when Juan asks for Cinthya, Beatriz said, “I tell him she’s working.”

She doesn’t know how to explain that “Tee-ta” is in jail. That regardless of the legal outcome of her case, the deaths of Abby and Anna will haunt Cinthya for the rest of her life. She can’t tell him Cinthya is at risk of being sent back to Mexico, where she hasn’t lived since she was 4 years old. She can’t tell him that with felonies on her record, Cinthya would have no way to ever return to the U.S. — not even if she married a legal citizen.

While last week’s accident has shattered a number of lives, starting with the parents who lost two beautiful daughters, a different car accident last spring showed Cinthya in a very different role.

Beatriz was driving with Cinthya, Mario Jr. and Juan from Hillsboro to Cornelius when they came upon a horrendous crash on the TV Highway near Coastal Farm and Ranch. It appeared to have just happened amid a sudden hailstorm. A police car was there, but Cinthya still “jumped out and ran over to see if people were okay,” Beatriz remembers.

Mario, who followed his sister, said they found a young woman with a bloody leg who appeared to be trapped in one of the cars, crying.

As a policeman stood outside the car asking the woman questions, Mario recalled, Cinthya quietly reached inside and took the woman’s hand and held it.

“Everything is going to be okay,” Cinthya said, trying to soothe the woman. “Everything is going to be okay.”

Dee Moore contributed to this story.

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