MERCED COUNTY --A case involving the death of two young girls has taken a strange twist. The man accused of killing them in a car crash had been on the run for more than a decade. But authorities now confirm he was murdered in Mexico back in August.
Photos of Brenda Reyes fill her mother's home in Atwater. Relatives said she was a happy and playful girl who loved teasing her four older siblings.
"What I remember most about her was her giggle. She had the most beautiful giggle, the most beautiful laugh," said Rojelia Rodriguez, victim's aunt.
But family members also have vivid memories of the night Brenda died in October of 2004. She was killed in a car crash just south of Merced, along with another 14-year-old girl, Kristen Johnson. Investigators said they were riding home from a party with Salvador Alejo Solis when he lost control and hit a power pole. One of Brenda's sisters was in another car and witnessed the horrific crash.
"We knew something had happened, and we all say it's like it happened yesterday," Rodriguez said.
Brenda was killed instantly, and Kristen died after 10 days in the hospital.
The driver was caught after leaving the scene and arrested on misdemeanor charges but he later posted bail and disappeared. Then on Monday, CHP officers confirmed that the 32-year-old was found bound, gagged, and shot to death in Mexico.
"I was shocked, I was shocked. And mad, angry because for real - I did not want him dead," said Gabby Rodriguez, victim's mother.
Rodriguez said she hurts for Salvador's family and is sad that she'll never be able to ask why he left or if he is sorry for all the pain he's caused. But this close knit family plans to keep the focus on Brenda's memory by visiting her grave on her birthdays and the crash site on the anniversary of her death.
"It's hard, every year it's hard for us. We're never going to forget her. She's part of our lives to this day," said Hortencia Reyes, victim's sister.