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The owner of a car repair shop on Pioneer Boulevard was killed in a violent car accident eight months ago, and the man responsible should not have been driving in the first place.
By Varshini Satish and Randy Economy
For many here in Southeast Los Angeles County, Roy Okimoto Sr. was the epitome of the American dream.
Now his violent death has turned into a living nightmare for those who loved him most and his family is now taking to the streets to demand “justice and answers” after he was killed eight months ago at the Carmenita Road off ramp at the 91 Freeway in Cerritos.
Okimoto grew up in a time when Japanese-Americans were being moved into internment camps during World War II.
Roy and his family were some of the first “Nisei Americans” to settle in the greater Artesia-Bellflower area in the 1950s and like some many others in that generation he went on to build one of the most successful local auto repair businesses in Southeast Los Angeles county on Pioneer Boulevard called “Okimotos Automotive Center.”
Misaki “Miki” Okimoto first met Roy Sr. while studying in Detroit through mutual friends and married in 1954. “Roy was the love of my life, no doubt about it, and his passing has left a huge whole in my heart,” she told Hews Media Group-Community News in an interview this past week.
Roy Okimoto Jr., also remembered his dad’s final day.
“My dad began his morning at 6:30 and was usually the first one to get the coffee ready and pick up the paper to read what was going on around town. It was November 19, 2012, he got a call from one of our customers, a teacher at Stowers Elementary School who needed a ride back to our shop on Pioneer Boulevard,” said Roy Jr.
When his dad exited Carmenita Road at the 91 that fateful morning, a passenger vehicle being driven by 78 year old Jose Lobato of Orange was speeding at 60-65 mph according to witnesses and a report from the California Highway Patrol when he slammed into Okimoto’s car striking him on the driver side door.
The impact was so great that there were no skid marks left behind and Okimoto Sr. was thrown from the driver’s side to the passenger’s side, crushing the well-known community leader in his car.
CHP officer, Frank Uyemori, who is a longtime family friend who went to school with Roy Jr.’s younger brothers and sisters at Gahr High School, happened to be on duty during that morning and actually was the first law enforcement official to arrive on the scene of the violent crash.
Uyemori quickly identified Okimoto and asked him if he knew his own name or the date, to which he answered that he did not know either of those things. Emergency medical workers rushed Okimoto to UCI Medical Center.
“After he stabilized a little, he was joking around with everyone there…that was him alright.” The doctor reported that Okimoto Sr. had three five-man trauma teams working on him and was alive for three hours before passing away.
His body was in such a state of disfigurement, doctors recommended that Roy Jr. and Miki not see him in the condition that he was left in after many surgical procedures.
Lobato the driver of the car, who struck Okimoto, was also taken to the same trauma facility at UCI Medical Center. The 78-year-old suffered several non-life threatening injuries, and survived the ordeal.
Later, Okimoto Jr. told HMG-CN that Lobato would not sign the accident report that claimed he was the responsible party.
“Since the accident, Lobato has changed his story over the course of the investigations and finally stating that he did, in fact, have the green light and did not run a red light as was originally stated,” said Roy Jr.
HMG-CN also learned that Lobato has had many citations in the past and actually had his California Drivers License taken away in 2010.
Last week, the family placed a sign at the site of the accident that reads “Memory of Roy Okimoto 11/19/12. Killer is Still Free!”
The case is now winding its way through the legal system here in local courts in Bellflower, and Lobato may only face Misdemeanor Manslaughter charges, that would result in a $10,000 fine, and three to four years of probation, no jail time and five years driving suspension.
“Our dad was slaughtered in a car accident by a man who was not supposed to be driving in the first place, and now the District Attorney wants to let him off with a slap on the wrist.” Roy Okimoto, Jr. said.
“This isn’t justice, this is an outrage,” said his now widow Mikki.
Note: HMG-CN will be following this case over the next several weeks and months and will have updates for our readers. In the meantime, what do you think? Has the legal system failed in this matter? Send your comments to Randy@CerritosNews.net.
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