The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Pilsen Family Devastated When Vacation Ends in Fatal Crash

By Erica Demarest | January 8, 2014 1:57pm
 Jorge Casillas was killed in a car crash in Mexico Sunday. His oldest daughter, Mayra, is in critical condition.
The Casillas Family
View Full Caption

PILSEN — Late Friday, Jorge and Hortencia Casillas packed up their Ford Explorer and headed to Mexico.

The longtime Pilsen residents were taking their daughter, son-in-law and 11-month-old grandson to their native Valle de Guadalupe. The city hosts a nine-day festival each January honoring the Virgin Mary.

"When we have a child, we take them home [to Mexico], present them to the Virgin Mary and ask her to look out for them for the rest of their lives," said relative Arturo Garcia, 43.

"The majority of us come back every January if we can," he said. "It's a big day."

Sometime after 11 a.m. Sunday — when the family was about four hours away from Valle de Guadalupe — Jorge Casillas lost control of his SUV, relatives said. It went off the road and flipped several times.

Jorge Casillas was killed in the crash. His wife, Hortencia Casillas, was badly bruised.

The couple's daughter, Mayra Casillas, is listed in critical condition in a Mexican hospital, Garcia said. She suffered broken ribs, a broken nose, lung and liver damage, and severe cuts and bruising. She had one emergency surgery Sunday. A second was slated for Wednesday.

"She is fighting for her life," Garcia said.

Mayra Casillas' boyfriend, Rolando Santoyo, has broken vertebrae in his neck. He needs a splint and is also slated to undergo surgery Wednesday, Garcia said.

The couple's son, Noah Santoyo, suffered a concussion, but was expected to live. He turned 1 on Tuesday.

Garcia, who is Hortencia Casillas' nephew, said the family is devastated.

Mayra Casillas and Rolando Santoyo had just bought a home together in Archer Heights. They hosted a New Year's Eve party for the "tight-knit" family and were thrilled about the trip to Mexico, Garcia said.

"It was their first trip together with their newborn child," he said. "They were thrilled to share their beliefs and customs."

Jorge and Hortencia Casillas moved to Pilsen in the 1980s. The couple's four children — Mayra, Jorge Jr., Rogelio and Erika — were born in Chicago, and the family often vacationed in Mexico.

Jorge Casillas worked for Aramark Uniforms, Garcia said, while his wife was described as a doting stay-at-home mom "who never had her kids babysat and always made homemade food."

Jorge Casillas was known for his generosity, Garcia said: "He was always going out of his way to help other people — whether you needed a lift, money for lunch, whatever."

When Mayra Casillas, the Casillas' oldest and "very outgoing" child, finished school, she started working with her dad as a clerk at Aramark, family said. Over family dinners, her longtime boyfriend Santoyo would often gush about his job as a CTA graphic designer.

As the family grieved this week, a friend established an online fundraiser. As of early Wednesday, more than $10,000 has been raised.

All money raised will go toward funeral costs, medical bills and travel expenses, Garcia said. The three youngest Casillas children are flying to Mexico early Thursday "to be with their mom in her time of need."

Garcia said the "most important donation people can make is their prayer." However, he added, if anyone could help financially, "every little bit of sand adds up at the end."