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Family seeks hit-run driver who killed 2|
By Mark Arner
June 6, 2003
They were killed in the promised land.
The Wei family began its exodus from Communist-controlled Vietnam in 1979, with two brothers enduring a brutal ocean voyage, settling in Orange County's large Vietnamese community and staking their claim to the American dream.
Two weeks ago, that dream was broken. The oldest and youngest members of the 13-member family who followed the trail to freedom were killed in a hit-run accident on Interstate 5 in Carmel Valley. Several other family members were injured.
Now the family is doing what it can to track down the driver who shattered their lives.
"I want him to see who he took from us and the pain that he has caused for our family," said John Wei, 36. "I believe he does not know what are the consequences of his actions."
The family has paid for advertisements in several Southern California newspapers, pleading for anyone who knows about the May 24 accident to notify authorities. Today they have scheduled a San Diego news conference to publicize their plight.
Mindy Chi Chung, who was riding in a rear seat of the family's Toyota 4-Runner, recalls it being hit from behind about 9 p.m., how it rolled over and abruptly stopped when its rear bumper slammed into a concrete median separating I-5 from state Route 56.
The 38-year-old was critically injured and has been in Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla since.
"I heard someone hit my car on the rear left side," Mindy said, "then I saw the front wheel turn to the left, and then it was all black and I didn't see anything."
The black sport utility vehicle the California Highway Patrol says caused the accident sped away.
One of the first people to help tend the wounded after the collision was a nurse, Susanne McAllen, who had seen the accident while driving home with her fiance. McAllen tried to resuscitate Mindy's younger brother, Warren, but was unsuccessful.
Killed were Mindy's father, Larry Wei, 66, a retired electrician who volunteered for years at a Santa Ana senior center, and her brother, Quang "Warren" Tien Nguy, 26, who had managed his own silk-screening business in Tustin.
Mindy and her mother, Khiem Chung, 63, suffered critical spinal injuries from the crash. Her brother, John, and her husband, Henry, suffered minor cuts and bruises.
"I'd like to know who hit my car," Mindy said from her bed at Scripps. "I loved my father and my younger brother."
Mindy said the family remains close, which has helped them endure their latest challenge.
"We're all in shock," said her brother, John. "There is no answer (about who caused the accident), and no words to describe it. We don't know how to get back to normal."
He said he had similar feelings of helplessness when he and his older brother joined more than 300 other refugees on a rickety, 50-foot fishing boat that set sail from Ho Chi Minh City harbor in 1979.
They did not have a trained captain. They were raided and robbed three times while at sea: twice by Thai pirates and once by members of the Malaysian Navy. Initially, John Wei said, the Malaysians helped them by letting them stay for two weeks in a refugee camp, but later towed the group back to sea, robbed them at gunpoint, and left them to drift aimlessly.
A crew aboard a British oil tanker eventually spotted the boat and towed it to Indonesia. Survivors were nursed back to health aboard a United Nations vessel. By then, more than 70 of the fishing boat's passengers had died of sickness, starvation or suicide.
Fourteen years after the brothers reached Orange County, the rest of the family joined them.
"What I went through has made me appreciate life," said John, who now manages an auto shop in Santa Ana.
Anyone with information about the crash can contact the CHP at (858)637-3800.
Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.