Marco Rico from Dallas never had a daughter. So, when his granddaughter was born, he was over the moon.
“She was the light in the house,” he says.
But Gigi Rico’s light went out two months ago. The six year-old died as a consequence of a terrible car crash in Tyler.
Rico says Gigi was on a summer trip with her maternal grandparents. If she was the light of Rico’s house, the little girl was much more to her maternal grandparents – because their daughter. Gigi’s mom, had just died of cancer two years before.
So, when Gigi fell asleep in that trip, Grandma wanted her to be comfortable.
“She took the seat belt [off] because she wants to make the baby comfortable. And the driver was the aunt and she fall asleep and they had an accident,” family members say.
The pain is unbearable.
“I cannot go inside my house because my house is full of her – it’s still full of her,” her grandfather says.
But there are things Rico can do. As a former pastor, public speaking comes easily to him, and as a LULAC activist he believes organizing is the only way to achieve change. So ever since July, he’s taken to the airwaves in as many Spanish-speaking radio stations as possible.
“I receive so many emails not just from the United States – from Colombia, Panama, Venezuela – and they say the same thing: ‘I never use the seat belts,'” he says. “In Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, it’s not the law over there. But because of your story I started buckling my kids.”
According to World Health Organization statistics on seat belts and child-restraint laws, the majority of Latin-American countries have seat belt laws for front-seat occupants. But few have child-restraint laws. Even so, the WHO found that countries with laws targeting children rarely enforce them.
Compared to 2013, in 2014 there was a 25 percent increase of children’s deaths on Texas roads. Many of those kids – like Gigi Rico – were not restrained at the time of impact.
“I believe that my story doesn’t have to be your tragedy,” Rico says.
Marco Rico – former grandfather – says he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to prevent others from going through what he and his family are still going through.