A woman was driving to church with her fiance and three children when their SUV veered off a gravel road in a national forest and into a swamp canal, killing everyone inside, a friend said Monday.
Investigators said Maria Luisa Gonzalez, 23; her fiance, Abdiel Salis Sr., 24; and her three children _ Alexander Gomez, 6, Adyelis Salgonzalez, 1, and Abdiel Salis Jr., 4 months _ all died Sunday when the vehicle careened into the canal about 6 p.m.
"They were heading to a church service in New Bern, and we just don't know why they went on that road," said Tammy Guyon, a friend of the family.
State troopers investigating the wreck said Gonzalez was behind the wheel. They also said speed may have been a factor in the crash that sent the Chevrolet Blazer off the road that runs through the national forest from Craven County into Jones County.
Catfish Pond Road is considered so hazardous that Marines based in Eastern North Carolina are banned from using it unless absolutely necessary, according to the website for Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Loose gravel, potholes and limited visibility, especially at night, are among dangers cited in the order.
Guyon said Gonzalez was a professional hairdresser but had not been working since giving birth to her youngest child.
"She had just had the baby and was staying home to take care of him," she said. "She was like my little sister."
Gonzalez's mother, JoAnne Hernandez, was in tears as she spoke about her daughter and grandchildren Monday.
"It's so sad about my three grandbabies," Hernandez said. "And my daughter. She and Abdiel were just so happy."
She said Gonzalez moved with her older son, Alexander, to Havelock three years ago from Puerto Rico, where she had been living. Hernandez has lived in Craven County since 1999.
She said Gonzalez met Salis shortly after moving to Havelock.
Salis was the father of Gonzalez's two younger children and helped care for all three, Hernandez said.
She said they had been unable to get in touch with Abdiel Salis Sr.'s family in Mexico as of late Monday afternoon.
Hernandez said her daughter and Salis had planned to marry next month and were getting ready to move into a new home. They recently had been staying in a room at the Budget Inn motel, which Hernandez manages.
Hernandez described her three grandchildren as "happy-go-lucky" and said Adyelis was learning to speak.
"Alexander liked to play, ride his bike and his scooter," she said.