A 42-year-old Bakersfield mother of three, who loved babies and serving others, was killed Tuesday night in a crash police say was caused by an off-duty Kern County firefighter believed to be driving drunk.
The victim’s 15-year-old daughter was also injured in the 7:52 p.m. crash at Panama Lane and Ashe Road where the firefighter’s Ford-150 pickup truck careened into a power pole and caught fire, Bakersfield police said. Other motorists pulled 30-year-old MItchell Green from his burning pickup before police arrived, officers said.
There was no evidence of braking as Green ran a red light and smashed into the passenger side of a gray Hyundai, killing MIchelle Maxwell at the scene, police said.
The Hyundai, driven by Michaela Maxwell, a sophomore at Independence High School, had been east on Panama Lane and turned on a green light north onto Ashe Road, police said.
The power pole was severed, knocking out power to 4,600 customers, PG&E reported. Most had their power back within a couple of hours.
Kathryn Maxwell, 20, the older sister of Michaela, was one of the people affected by the power outage. She didn’t think anything of it until her grandmother rushed in 15 minutes later to tell her the horrible news.
Kathryn said she and her father, Jerry Maxwell, a postal employee at the Pegasus branch, camped out at the hospital where Michaela had surgery Wednesday morning for a broken wrist, a broken leg, facial and stomach bruises. Jerry Maxwell, who lost his wife of nearly 24 years, said he was too distraught to talk to reporters.
Pastor Judy Jenkins, a longtime friend of Mrs. Maxwell, was there with family and friends Wednesday afternoonto break the news to Michaela of her mother’s death.
“She broke down and cried,” Jenkins said. “She said, ‘I was the driver.’ I said, ‘It was not your fault.’”
Jenkins said she assured the girl that her mother would give up her own life for her daughter's every time.
Green, a three-year firefighter who was promoted to engineer 13 months ago, is not doing well. Police initially reported he had moderate injuries, but on Wednesday morning he was in critical condition at Kern Medical Center and in the afternoon, he was transferred to Fresno Community Regional Medical Center, where he was in critical condition Wednesday evening, officials said.
Police said Green will be booked into jail on felony drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter charges.
His family and friends gathered at Kern Medical Center declined to comment.
The fire department said the incident will be investigated by police and no other information can be provided because it is a personnel matter, spokesman Sean Collins said.
Jenkins, a longtime friend of Mrs. Maxwell as they worked together on children’s program at the New Life Christian Center, said she was “in total shock” by the news.
At the time of the crash, the mother and daughter were on their way to the New Life center to sign a quilt for 15-year-old Lauren Ashley Morton, who died from leukemia, Jenkins said.
“She (Mrs. Maxwell) found her greatest joy being useful to somebody,” Jenkins said.
She had been a teacher’s assistant for years, but was recently taking classes to work for an obstetrician-gynecologist “because she loved babies,” Jenkins said.
Just recently, she gave a newborn her first bath, daughter Kathryn said.
She loved her husband and three daughters — Amber who is married and lives in Indiana, and the two in Bakersfield, Kathryn said.
Mrs. Maxwell was also a “neighborhood mom” to all the friends of her daughters, including
Kendra Trantham, 19, Megahn Baker, 20, and Cheyenne Mitchell, 15, who came to the hospital to support the family.
“She always had her door open and dinner on the table,” Trantham said. “And she loved God with all her heart.”
Kathryn said, “God is going to have a reason” for the accident, but she doesn’t know what that is now. She said she believes her mother “is at peace now.”
Jenkins said Mrs. Maxwell had suffered from surgical complications for the past several years, one of the only things to dampen her happiness.
Cheyenne Mitchell, who said she’s been Michaela’s best friend since kindergarten, said the broken bones will sideline the normally active girl for awhile.
Michaela is a member of the Independence High School Color Guard as well as the swimming and volleyball teams, Mitchell said.
Going by the nickname “Mickey,” she is always physically active, loves people, loves life and is “an amazing person inside and out,” Mitchell said.
All the girls cried about the tragedy, made all the more so by the alleged drunkenness of a firefighter.
Kathryn didn’t mince words. “I hope you feel guilty for the rest of your life because you took an amazing woman from me,” she said. “You’re supposed to fight fires and save us. Good job.”
MItchell said her religious beliefs mean she will forgive Green, “but I won’t forget you. I hope you learn a lesson and I hope other people learn not to drink and drive. It hurts people.”
Friends of Green offered their prayers for him on his Facebook page.