SOUTH JORDAN — Pearl Iata never had children of her own.
But the 38-year-old Herriman woman, originally from Hawaii, had a very large extended family with lots of nieces and nephews who considered her a second mother. Everyone called her "auntie," her family said.
On Wednesday, Iata, who family members say would give anything to anyone in need, was hit and killed by a suspected drunken driver who had stolen a pickup truck an hour earlier and was fleeing from another traffic accident he had just caused, according to police.
Edilberto Lopez-Ramirez, 23, was arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Wednesday for investigation of automobile homicide, reckless driving, being in a stolen vehicle, failing to remain at the scene of an accident, driving on a denied license and DUI.
About 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, a pickup truck ran a red light at the intersection of Lake Avenue (11000 South) and Mountain View Corridor and was T-boned by a minivan, said South Jordan Police Lt. Matt Pennington.
The driver of the minivan, Iata, was pinned in her car and died at the scene, Pennington said.
The pickup rolled and the driver, Edilberto Lopez-Ramirez, 23, was able to "crawl out" of the vehicle after it rolled, according to police.
When questioned by officers, Lopez-Ramirez admitted to drinking three to four 12-ounce cans of beer, and three 32-ounce cans of beer, according to a Salt Lake County Jail report.
"He later admitted he was drunk," the report states.
As detectives began piecing the case together, they learned that the truck Lopez-Ramirez was driving was reported stolen out of Herriman an hour earlier. And just prior to the fatal crash, he was involved in a second minor accident, according to the report.
Lopez-Ramirez told police that he was speeding on the Mountain View Corridor prior to the crash, and then "was trying to beat the red light" at the intersection at Lake Avenue and "he did not look left or right when he entered the intersection," the report states.
Lopez-Ramirez was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital and booked into jail once he was released.
He was convicted of a domestic violence-related assault in December, according to court records. In another incident in December, he was arrested for investigation of multiple counts of aggravated assault after police say he walked into a Harmon's in Taylorsville and began throwing glass bottles filled with beverages at store patrons, a police report states. Police noted that he "began screaming" and acted "extremely bizarre" once he was taken to jail. His father told investigators that Lopez-Ramirez had recently used methamphetamine, the report states.
Iata served mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pocatello, Idaho. Family members say one of her last moments with her family was wishing her brother, Frank, a happy birthday before she headed to work.
"I've never been this broken before. But it's because of Pearl. She's so special," said Frank Maea-Iata, Pearl's brother.
On social media, friends and family members paid tribute to Iata, shared memories and offered messages of condolence.
"My sister-in-law spoiled and loved my kids. Pearl is that one aunty that would plan the fun events for the kids at family functions. She had (a) huge heart. Thank you for blessing our family with your love and beautiful spirit," Malakai Sesi Vailah posted on Facebook. "It was so hard to tell my kids about the passing away of their Aunt Pearl. They cried their poor little eyes out."
"My heart is broken, still in disbelief. You just wished me happy birthday before you left to work. You have a heart of gold and beautiful soul, selfless and always giving. I’m still lost for words!" posted Falaniko Iata Maea, who identified Iata as her sister.
"I can't get you out of my mind. … My head is still trying to accept what has happened. I don't know the words to express how empty I'm feeling. … My heart breaks for our Iata family losing a daughter, sister, aunty, second mom. … Pearl Iata, we had a concert next month, first cruise, the Caribbean, and Samoa on our calendar for 2019. We were supposed to get to all those things," Venus Wily posted on Facebook.Comment on this story
"Pearl Iata, I still can’t believe you're gone. You where the most loving, funniest, humble and caring person I ever knew. You showed me that good people still exist. I love every moment we spend together talking about food and how to make new things. My heart goes out to the Iata family. Just know that God has the best angel by his side and she is always looking over you guys. RIP Pearl. You’ll never be forgotten," wrote Maria Prado.
Family members say while they are feeling some anger, they are also praying for the family of Lopez-Ramirez.
Contribuing: Ladd Egan