A family of eight were reportedly mowed down by a stranger after a slight disagreement turned into a deadly attack. Jason Mendez has been arrested and charged with murder after police say he intentionally ran over a couple and their six kids on February 20, outside a 7-Eleven in Rockland County, New York. The violent act reportedly came after the father simply asked Mendez to "not to blow smoke in front of my kids," which allegedly set the man off. Now, the family is left mourning the loss of a mother and wife, as well as an unborn baby, as the surviving dad and six children try to recover both physically and emotionally.
The incident happened on Wednesday afternoon, after Mendez and the family got into a dispute outside of a convenience store.
According to NBC 4, the incident happened around 2 p.m. in front of a 7-Eleven. Police believe Mendez intentionally got into his car to run over the family of eight, which included a 32-year-old Melissa Castillo DeLoatch, her 35-year-old husband, and their six children, ranging in age from less than 11 months to 10 years old.
Although police have yet to confirm the exact reason for the dispute, a witness at the scene described what appeared to have prompted the incident to investigators. "I heard the father, he was telling the cops, 'I told him not to blow smoke in front of my kids,'" explained Cindy Schnalzer. But apparently the father's wishes set Mendez off.
“The suspect then got into his vehicle and deliberately, it appears, deliberately took the vehicle the rammed it into these individuals,” Haverstraw Police Capt. Martin Lund told CBS New York. “Then, we believe, backed up the vehicle and then subsequently hit the victims again.”
Melissa reportedly died a hero, throwing herself in front of a stroller in an attempt to save her baby.
All the members of the family were immediately rushed to the hospital as soon as police arrived, but Melissa died from her injuries.
Melissa's mom, Joan Christopher, told ABC 7 that her daughter's last act was trying to shield her kids. "She took and threw herself in front of the stroller, in front of the car," she said. "So, she threw herself to protect her babies."
The day after she died, police revealed the mother of six had been pregnant with her seventh child, reports ABC 7.
"Melissa was not only my daughter, but she was also my best friend," Christopher added. "To deliberately run somebody over, not once, but twice, and in front of your children, and try to kill my grandkids, and her husband. They didn't do nothing to them."
Melissa's brother is also reeling from the unthinkable news and has a question for Mendez. "Why did you take my sister?" Ryan Christopher said. "Why did you try to harm my nieces and nephews?"
When police arrived on the scene, Mendez was reportedly holding a knife and had to be apprehended at gunpoint.
Police said Mendez was sitting in his car and was armed when they arrived, which caused further problems. “The officers asked him to put the knife down, he refused to do so, and the officer tased him and took him down to the ground, and then we took him into custody,” Lund explained.
When police investigated the crime scene, they found a mangled baby stroller in front of the 7-Eleven. Witnesses at the scene said they saw a woman lying on the ground immediately after the crash, looking severely injured, reported NBC 4.
The father and three children, ages 3, 2, and 11 months were all seriously injured. According to ABC 7, two of the children are still in the pediatric ICU and the 2-year-old sustained the most severe injuries. The child is reportedly recovering from internal injuries and a broken leg, but everyone is expected to survive.
"[The mother] was laying on the ground," witness Allison Rodriguez told ABC 7. "Carriage was there. Nobody was around her. We just kinda knew she wasn't gonna make it."
"The baby was was crying, and there was like an 11-year-old girl that came out, and she was with her father out here, and the father was going ballistic wanting to know where the guy was," Schnalzer told NBC 4.
At his arraignment on Wednesday night, Mendes pleaded not guilty to charges including second-degree murder and seven counts of second-degree attempted murder.
The driver's attorney claimed his client had just lost his job at a cell phone repair company a week ago. But clearly, no matter the circumstances, that does not excuse the heartbreaking tragedy that took place that day.
“This is a tragedy. It doesn’t happen very frequently, if at all, in our community,” Lund told CBS New York. “But it is a tragedy that happened today.”
By early Thursday morning, flowers could be seen placed in front of the now boarded-up window of the 7-Eleven that Mendez had smashed during the attack.
Mendez is due back in court on Tuesday.
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site Cafe Mom.