Elisa and Valentina Ornelas are pictured with Valentina’s battery-powered Bug in a graphic produced for a Feb. 18 fundraiser for their family, which will take place in San Juan Bautista. The fundraiser is organized by the DubAffair car club. Contributed photo

Elisa and Valentina Ornelas—ages 7 and 4, respectively—enjoyed Volkswagens as much as their father, Cesar Ornelas, who is a collector of vintage vehicles. They loved riding in his yellow Bug, which the girls called “the banana,” or his green Volkswagen (“the green bean”) to get groceries with their father when he would come home to the family’s Morgan Hill ranch after work, Cesar said recently. 

The sisters always had fun traveling with their parents to Volkswagen shows, which Cesar participates in regularly, and they even learned how to ride their bicycles at such shows. Their father bought a child-sized toy Bug for Valentina not long ago. 

Even while growing up on a farm with horses and ponies, the children “changed their hobby” in recent years to Volkswagens, matching and fueling their father’s passion for the classic cars. 

“They loved camping and they loved being around Volkswagens,” Cesar added in an interview with this newspaper. “I bought a little battery-powered Bug for Valentina. She loved to cruise on her Bug. They just loved the car shows. They knew the names of all the cars (at the shows)…They were proud of me for getting awards at the shows.” 

Ornelas has countless memories of his daughters, who died Jan. 12 as the result of a five-vehicle traffic accident on Highway 152 east of Gilroy. Cesar was driving the family’s Dodge with his wife and three children in the vehicle when they were struck by a Tesla that was attempting to pass a big-rig, according to authorities. 

Elisa suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol. Valentina was transported to a nearby hospital, where she died of her injuries. Elisa was a student at Jackson Elementary in east Morgan Hill. 

Their mother, Maribell Ornelas, and 4-months-old brother, Cesar, were also transported to the hospital with injuries. They are “OK now,” said the father. 

CHP Officer Alfredo Uribe said on Feb. 7 officers have recommended that prosecutors charge the Tesla driver, Patrick Sean Allen, of Los Banos, with manslaughter. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office will decide if Allen should face charges, Uribe added. 

The family was on their way to a Volkswagen car show in Arizona when the accident happened, Cesar added. They were planning to stop in the mountains on their way so the kids could play in the snow—one of many aspects of the road trip that excited them. 

Over the years, Cesar and family made friends at the car shows who have come together to show support in ways the father didn’t expect after the Jan. 12 tragedy. He said in recent weeks he has heard from Volkswagen collectors from other states and countries wanting to express their condolences and help the family. 

On Sunday, Feb. 18, the Volkswagen club NorCal DubAffair—of which Cesar Ornelas has been a member for about five years—will hold a fundraiser for the family at Hacienda De Leal in San Juan Bautista. Organizers will ask for donations from each Volkswagen owner who enters a vehicle in the show, and will sell food plates and T-shirts depicting a photo with graphics of Elisa and Valentina with the younger girl’s toy Bug, said Bilha Diaz, a DubAffair member and one of the fundraiser organizers. The event will also feature live music, face painting and raffles.

Funds raised will help Cesar, Maribell and their son move “toward a new life in getting a new house,” Diaz said. “Too many memories at their current home.” 

Also at the Feb. 18 show, each Volkswagen will receive a complimentary dash plaque designed by club president Ray Diaz in honor of Elisa, Valentina and the Ornelas family. The plaques will be crafted and donated by Art Mendez Domino Engraving & Designs.

Ray Diaz said he became friends with Cesar Ornelas when the latter sought mechanical help with one of his four Volkswagens just over two years ago. Diaz stopped by the family home to help, and they quickly became friends. 

“We had a lot of similar interests,” Diaz said. “He’s got horses and goats…and he makes goat milk drinks. He always invited me to his house. They’re a really good family, always real welcoming.” 

Knowing that the Volkswagen collecting community is “pretty close,” Diaz thought he could get a surge of support for the Ornelas family by putting together a car show gathering. Other family members had put together an online fundraising page shortly after the Jan. 12 accident, but Diaz wanted to do something “that was a little more personal.” 

“The girls were always there” at the DubAffair car shows, Diaz added. 

The Feb. 18 fundraiser is scheduled for 10am-3pm. Hacienda De Leal is located at 410 The Alameda in San Juan Bautista. 

For more information, visit the event page on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/2wu9muf7

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.