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Loved ones grieve victims of accident

Friends and family who would have helped Gina Daniels celebrate her 27th birthday Sunday were grieving her death instead.

By mid-afternoon, handwritten messages of love and grief covered rough wooden planks propped against a roadside hazard sign on West Main Street, where Daniels' car crashed a few minutes after 1 a.m. Saturday. Mourners placed lit candles in the roadside gravel and laid bouquets of roses and carnations beside the pavement.

Daniels' partner, Brian Daniel Santangelo, 29, and Brian Kevin Venegas, 30, also died in the crash.

Dana Daniels, Gina's sister, consoled her 10-year-old nephew, Jordan, as he wept for his mother.

"He's heartbroken," Dana Daniels said.

She described her sister as "very independent, very strong emotionally."

"She was just a free spirit," Dana Daniels said. "She loved her family more than anything. She was so proud to be a mom and have such a good family.

"They were just driving too fast," she said. "They lost control and hit the bridge, and (the car) flipped and they just kept on going,"

Police said the driver of the vehicle was speeding on West Main Street when the 1999 Honda Accord left the pavement for an unknown reason. Two were ejected as the car caromed down the road, striking several bridges that span an irrigation ditch.

In the initial investigation, police could not determine who was driving. Jackson County Sheriff's Sgt. Dace Cochran is handling the crash investigation. Details won't be available for several days, a sheriff's clerk said.

Arianna Nero of Medford said Gina Daniels "was like a big sister to me."

"She was stubborn and hard-headed, but lovable," Nero said as she approached the memorial. "She taught me how to cook a lot of stuff."

Judd Merriman of Medford put up the memorial to honor Santangelo, his friend of some 20 years.

"We did everything together" as kids, Merriman said.

"That guy, he was unbelievable," Merriman said. "If I had a problem with anything, he always stuck up for me.

"He hated bullies. He couldn't stand 'em."

Merriman said he was involved in a crash a few hundred yards west on West Main Street a few years ago that should have killed him.

"That's a bad stretch of road," he said.

Merriman said Gina Daniels was a bartender who approached her work professionally.

"She just doesn't drive drunk," he said. "She was always a sober driver. That's why everybody's baffled."

Friends said Daniels and Santangelo had been together for eight or nine years and considered themselves husband and wife.

Gina Daniels' mother, Diana Daniels, arrived Sunday from Las Vegas and came to the memorial to grieve. She said her daughter had lived in Southern Oregon since the age of 2, "so she's very well-known."

"She was a real tiger," Diana Daniels said. "She was a high-spirited, fun-loving, determined young woman."

Dan Burlington of Medford said he was with the trio at Wet, a Medford bar, when they decided to leave.

"They were drinking," Burlington said.

They asked him to come along with them, but he declined.

"I would've been in that car last night," he said, looking at the heavy bridge timbers splintered by the force of the crash.

"It's a good lesson," he said. "I'm glad I said no."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

Diana Daniels, center, mother of Gina Daniels stopped to place flowers on a roadside memorial dedicated to the victims of a car accident that claimed three people Sunday morning. - Bob Pennell