Story by Nick Tate/Staff Writer
Skid marks and metal shrapnel line the street. The feeling of invincibility can only go so far when a person stares death in the face. In a matter of seconds, heartbeats were lost, both at the scene of a grisly crash. A mother’s worst nightmare is now reality: she must permanently say goodbye to her son. Ruben Perla, the bright, successful college student who was just starting his life was gone.
According to Deputy Michael Lennig of the Compton Sheriff Department Traffic Division, Perla and his co-worker Robert Carlos Arreola were traveling southbound on Santa Fe where they were coming home from their respective jobs at Arreola’s family car shop around 2:30p.m. on October 16, 2016. Lennig said that the two were traveling in Arreola’s 1991 Toyota MR2 in the #1 lane at a considerably high rate of speed (approximately 80-90 MPH). Arreola, lost control of the car and veered into the northbound lane on Sante Fe where they then clipped a 2006 Ford F- 350 Pickup Truck and both cars spun out of control leaving the MR2 to wind up in the northbound #3 lane.
The fatal blow came when Arreola struck a blue 2005 Dodge Magnum in a head-on collision. The incident according to Deputy Lennig occurred north of the intersection. Once the coroner completes the examination of the bodies, then the police will be able to definitively say there was no alcohol involved. However, there are no signs of alcohol on the first report. “We’ve had a couple fatalities at that intersection. That’s a bad intersection,” Lennig said.
A fellow student by the name of Allison-Mounce Hampton tends to the memorial constantly. She keeps it upright along with her mother, Louise Mounce, who is also a frequent attendee at the smoking area by the D Building alongside her daughter. The two were close friends with Ruben as they hungout with one another nearly every day.
“We had a gathering where you lit candles and she [Allison] gathered what was left of the wax and made candles where she gave them to the families of the others who died in the crash,” Mounce said.
“I just keep going on because that’s what he would’ve wanted,” Mounce said.
Because of his death, she watches for her safety more when she drives.
“He told me that I’ll never be too old to learn,” Mounce said. Mounce came back to school at the age of forty to study Culinary Arts.
The void Ruben left has been greatly felt. Specifically, in the hearts of his family members and a select few of his friends who he bonded with over at Long Beach City College’s main smoking area near the Math Building. Perla’s legacy and the mark he had on these lives won’t soon be forgotten.
Perla’s cousin, Evanny Vapien, said his loss is still really hard to deal with. She and Ruben lived together under the same roof which she thought strengthened their bond. “We were like siblings,” Vapien said. When asked about her family home life now, she said that Perla’s name is always mentioned.
“It’s a really tough feeling thinking that he’s not coming home,” Vapien said. “His name is always mentioned.” Vapien also said that the fact that Perla suggested that she stay in school had an impact on her.
“I’m gonna go back to school because of him. The main message that he gave me was school. He set the perfect example,” Vapien said. Perla was set to graduate in June and will be honored at the upcoming graduation ceremony later next year.
Perla’s aunt, Cindy Aguilar, is also trying to remain upbeat. “I’m trying to be kind and helpful like he was.” Aguilar said her nephew always had a joke for those who needed it.
“Tia, be happy. Remember, I love you.” This is one thing that will always stick with Aguilar, who had a really tight bond with her nephew.
“His way was always ‘be happy’ and was always trying to make people smile.” Aguilar said he was a very funny and peaceful guy. “He was a big teddy bear,” she said.
Perla’s impact extended far beyond his family, however. Friends were as equally shaken upon hearing the news of Ruben’s passing. Manny Moreno, a fellow LBCC student, fellow smoking area attendee and friend of Perla talked about how he affected his life and how he and his friends were planning on moving forward.
“We do it the same way we’ve always done it. We just go drinking with our friends,” Moreno said. It’s hard to hang out with them all through because we have our own lives. He was part of our core group” Moreno said.
Perla’s friendship was very important to Moreno. Just prior to Perla’s passing, Moreno gave him a bottle opener ring as a token of their friendship they shared together.
Moreno said he got a kick out of seeing it. It was a token he thought needed to be given because Moreno said that Perla always kept him calm.
As I walked up to the main smoking area, I noticed a laminated poem that Perla’s friend, Alex Rivera, had left hanging high on a pole as part of the memorial.
“The letter is more or less a poem dedicated to him,” Rivera said. “The meaning behind the poem was explaining how we first met and also how we spent our time together and the memories we shared,” Rivera said.
Rivera said that the true inspiration for the poem’s meaning came when he recalled the movie Gladiator and the ending when Maximus’s friend says, “I will see you again.”
“The way I am trying to carry out his legacy is to do something or create something in honor of him,” Rivera said.
Ever since Ruben’s passing, it made Rivera take art more seriously and he now wants to honor him with a piece of work. “I just use his philosophy by staying positive and happy every day. I’m also grateful to be alive,” Rivera said.
Rivera said that Perla’s passing, however, has made him more aware about life as well as how fragile it can be.
“When it comes to driving now, I always make sure of three things now: to buckle up, never jaywalk and never be involved in an alcohol related car crash,” Rivera said.
“One of the lessons he taught me was that life in general is too short to dwell on things with anger and that life’s all about being happy,” Rivera said.
With this advice, Rivera goes one day at a time. He carries this advice with him every day and will forever be thankful.
“Instead of dwelling on the past and [negative] stuff and being hard on myself, I can now careless and take everyday day-by-day,” Rivera said.
Perla’s impact though extended far beyond his immediate friends at LBCC and even to people who wish they would’ve got to know him better.
“I didn’t know him very long, so as to carrying on his legacy, I just try to remember him as he was, a kind-hearted, soft spoken man who had a bright future ahead of him,” said Jeff Dahlquist, fellow LBCC student and regular at the main smoking area.
“I just try and keep my spirits up and remember that life doesn’t necessarily end in death,” Dahlquist said.
Dahlquist believes it just changes and evolves into something different.
“I encourage all who participate in drinking to do so responsibly and safely more so now as a result of Ruben’s death,” Dahlquist said.
Dahlquist said he doesn’t remember any specific advice Perla gave him. However, Dahlquist recalls “a certain jovial quality to his person [and for that], he’ll be missed.”
People expect the ones that are older than they are to go before they do but when the ones who are younger leave the world prior to the older people, it’s a crushing blow dealt to the strongest souls.
The death certificate states that Perla died of multiple injuries that he sustained as result of the crash.
Perla’s final resting place is Rose Hills Memorial Park located in Whittier, CA where friends and family can come give their respects and say hi to him as they please, without any restriction.