On Monday morning, after the Verde family’s darkest summer day, the sun finally came up over their house in Westminster. It will be the family’s first morning without their youngest child, 16 month-old Leilani Verde.
Not long after returning from Sunday services on Aug. 25, the Verde family backed their pickup truck into the driveway of their residence and began loading it in preparation for a visit to the children’s great-grandmother’s house.
According to authorities, the father of the children was inside the house as the 4-year-old sibling, excited to visit his great-grandmother, gained access to the truck keys. Once inside the cab, the elder sibling managed to start the vehicle, shift into neutral and cause the vehicle to roll. Within seconds, the pickup came into contact with the toddler. She expired instantly; the vehicle collided with their next-door neighbors’ fence as it came to a halt.
The Westminster Fire Department was the first to arrive on the scene. They quickly assessed and gained control of the situation. The fire department and emergency response team verified the fatality occurred suddenly upon impact. Authorities arrived on the scene and began conducting a currently on-going investigation with local television news outlets broadcasting soon after.
A neighbor, who wishes to remain anonymous, witnessed the aftermath.
"We noticed the Fire Department first; the ambulance came and left about five minutes after arriving. We went back inside and when we stepped out onto our front porch about 15 minutes later and we could see men putting up crime scene tape. We knew something bad had happened. There was a guy in a white t-shirt that walked around with the cops taking pictures and other people came and took pictures, too."
The neighbor also said they saw a sheet held up to separate the scene of the accident from plain view for eight minutes as the firefighters moved the infant from below the pickup. Nor did they see any immediate family members, other than the children’s’ father, present in the area in the events shortly after the fatal mishap.
The neighbor, who saw the child playing outside with her siblings on a regular basis, recounts their last time seeing Leilani Verde.
"When we left the house on Saturday morning, we saw all four kids, including the little one, were playing on the street. The little one was wearing a diaper and a t-shirt and the other kids were riding their bikes. We didn’t see any adults out there as we drove past."
The Verde’s neighbors expressed deepest condolences and prayers, as did most of the residents in this closely-knit section of Westminster.
The community-wide outpour of emotion and support shows how a tragedy such as this can unite an entire region in both grief and empathy.
A normal day on Westmoreland Circle is most often quiet, with one of the few sounds being that of children at play and the occasional joyous din of a family cook-out. Now, the sole tone is one of a saddening and apprehensive calm.
The toddler’s untimely demise closes a tragic week of fatal accidents in the Anna area. By early evening Sunday, their section of Westmoreland Circle was filled with extended family and fellow church members who came to support the Verde family in their most heartbreaking hour, showing the depth of the community’s togetherness and compassion.
Though the Verde family may be composed of around 100 members, it is now one soul less. The loss of Leilani Verde no doubt leaves a painful absence in their lives that can never be filled.