Tributes to medics killed in van crash as driver faces criminal charge

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van crash
Nurse Aurora Gagni and Dr Nunilo Rubio Sr were among among seven members of a medical mission who died when a tour van crashed into a tree on Saturday. Photos courtesy of St Elizabeth Seton Church and Presence Health.

The van driver who crashed into a tree causing the death of seven Filipino medics in Alegria Town, Cebu, is facing criminal charges.

Gilbert Adlawan dela Cruz, aged 24, admitted that he had fallen asleep at the wheel before the tragedy occurred on Saturday.

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A complaint of ‘reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and physical injuries’ was filed against him today (Tuesday, January 23). Bail has been set at 40,000 pesos and the complaint will be formally filed at court tomorrow.

The doctors and nurses were enjoying a day of sightseeing before they were due to start a three-day medical mission on Camiguin Island yesterday.

The fatalities have been named as Aurora Gagni, Joseph Huang, Juvella Huang, Nunilo Rubio, Rey Pascual, Berniti Rojas and Diana Pascual.

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Elenita Rubio, Leonor Tsai, and Fred Tsai were injured and are now being treated at the Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu City.

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The aftermath of the crash. Photograph by Bennie Campo.

The medics, from Chicago and New York, were among 100 Filipino-Americans who had volunteered for the mission — covering all expenses from their own pockets.

Members of the Filipino community in Chicago have expressed their shock and grief.

Elaine Lehman, executive director of the Filipino-American Council of Greater Chicago, said the tragedy had left the community “in shock, and bereaved”.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and all those affected by this devastating incident,” she added.

Among the victims was Nunilo Rubio Sr, an endocrinologist from Chicago. His wife, Elenita, also a doctor, was among the injured.

Writing in the Cebu Daily News, Dr Philip Chua, a friend of the couple, said: “They’re wonderful people who regularly dedicated their time to helping others.

“He’s very warm and compassionate, soft spoken, low-key. They’re very active in the medical communities, especially in Chicago.”

Dr Rubio was the medical director of endocrinology at Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center. “He was generous, compassionate and had a real commitment to patients,” hospital spokesman Jim O’Connell said. “He never stopped caring for those in need.”

Nida Blankas-Hernaez, past president of the Philippine Medical Association in Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune: “It’s sad, it’s really sad. We’re praying for them.”

Speaking of Aurora Gagni, a former colleague, she said: “She was like an angel to me. She wants to help all the time and so that’s why she was going on the mission.”

Reverend William Corcoran of St Elizabeth Seton in Orland Hills, where she worshipped, said: “She was out doing something good and a car crash kills her… you just don’t think of this happening.

“Everybody knew her. She was a spitfire, lots of energy. She was very committed to the parish and very much a part of this community.’’

It has also emerged that the Toyota Grandia the victims were riding in was not accredited by the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale said: “When the accident happened, we sought help from DOT. When the picture of the van’s plate number was sent to them, they told us that the vehicle was not even rainbow-plated. It means that it was not accredited by their office.”

The ‘rainbow plates’ were introduced in 2014 to ensure the safety of tourist vehicles.

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