DOCTOR ARROYO, Mexico (AP) — Six-year-old Carlos Gomez has been in a wheelchair with a cast from his waist down since a drunken driver in a pickup truck slammed into his family's sedan. The accident left both his parents dead and his 3-year-old sister with a shattered thigh bone.
The family had set out on a Holy Week road trip in March to visit relatives in southern Mexico when the pickup swerved into their lane and struck their Nissan Tsuru head-on.
The Tsuru's steering wheel tore through the rib cage of the father, also named Carlos Gomez. His wife's head collided with the dashboard and snapped back with such force that her seat ended up fully reclined.
Relatives say a safer car could have changed the outcome, though a police report made no determination.
Perhaps one or both the parents would have survived if the red 1998 Tsuru had air bags installed, two brothers of Diana Martinez say.
Perhaps if there had been shoulder belts in the back seat, young Carlos would not have been left with his skull, legs and hips fractured, and his sister's injuries would have been less severe.
In Mexico, basic safety features that have been mandatory for years in developed countries are not required by law and are often missing, even in new models.
Many international car manufacturers with plants in Mexico produce two versions of cars such as the Chevrolet Aveo and Nissan Versa. Models with air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control go to the United States, and cars without those safety features head to the local market.
The driver who crashed into the Gomez family sedan was in a red Ford Ranger with air bags, and was uninjured. He was ordered to pay a fine of less than $800 and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
"We can't afford a car like that, but they should really standardize the basic features. All cars should have them," said Deciderio Martinez, Diana's brother, fighting off tears as he recalled the accident that took his sister's life. "The air bag would have made a difference."
Nissan told The Associated Press in a statement that the Tsuru meets all safety regulations in the markets where it is sold and added it's one of the most popular cars because of its "durability, reliability and affordability." It had no immediate comment on the Gomez case.
Carlos Gomez, 38, had received the Tsuru, his first car, from one of his brothers. He woke up early to wash it every morning before heading to work as an administrator of a public health clinic near the town of Doctor Arroyo in northern Nuevo Leon state.
Before Gomez's road trip across Mexico, consumer groups had warned that the Tsurus were unsafe and needed to be pulled off the streets. They called for air bags and antilock brakes to be required by law.
Doctors hope young Carlos will be able to walk again. He is scheduled to get the cast off in coming weeks and begin an arduous rehabilitation.
But the psychological scars from the March 28 accident could take longer to heal.
On a recent day at the family's home, its faded walls covered with crucifixes and framed pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the quiet boy sat with a blanket covering his cast, fidgeting with the plush fabric.
At one point he reached from his wheelchair for an old copy of the newspaper that came out the day after the crash. Its front-page headline read "Two dead in tragic crash." Martinez, his uncle, moved it away and muttered, "Maybe later, boy."
To distract him, Martinez asked the 6-year-old to tell reporters what he wants to do first when he is able to walk again.
The boy thought for a moment, then spoke in a quiet voice.
"Ride a horse," he said.
Adriana Gomez Licon on Twitter: http://twitter.com/agomezlicon