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Popular Van Nuys High Groundskeeper Killed As A Result of Wrong Way Driver PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez   
Thursday, 30 January 2014 01:31

M. Terry / SFVS


Staff members at Van Nuys High School were shocked this week to learn that their much loved Building and Groundskeeper Keith Salvador “Sal” Orellana was killed after a suspected drunk driver traveling the wrong way early Monday morning, Jan. 27, on the 134 Freeway in Eagle Rock crashed into his vehicle, causing a fatal chain of events. Many teachers and staff members from the school had experienced the freeway stoppage during their morning commute, but didn't realize until they arrived to school, that it was because of the death of their friend and co-worker. “Mr. Orellana was a wonderful man and a beloved member of our staff for the last 16 years,” Van Nuys High School Principal Yolanda Gardea said.

A district counselor was on the school campus on Tuesday to meet with the school staff. Orellana 54, a resident of Sylmar, was on his way home from a visit with his brother when a suspected drunk driver traveling the wrong way in the carpool lane of the freeway hit Orellana’s car head on. Orellana’s 20-year-old son Kirk was also in the car and an eyewitness to his father’s death. Karen Orellana said her brother reported that after the wrong way driver hit their car head on, he attempted to drive away. “My brother Kirk wanted to get his license plate number so he jumped out of the car.

After my brother got out of the car, my father also got out of the car and approached the man’s vehicle and tried to get the man to roll down his window,” she said. “As they were standing on the freeway another car hit my father which caused him to fly off the embankment and killed him". She said her brother suffered broken bones and burns. “His collar bone may be broken or out of place,” she said.

Police later indicated they received numerous 9-1-1 calls reporting that a car was traveling on the wrong side of the freeway. Karen said that although her father and mother were separated for many years, he had always remained very close to her, her brother and sister.

“He was always there when I needed him and I had such a close bond with my father, so much so that people would comment about it. My brother and sister were making plans to move in with my father and they were looking for an apartment that they could all share.” "If anyone deserved a happy retirement, it was Sal,” said Assistant Principal Rick Rosales. “He had a great work ethic and was always helpful and he did his work with a smile.”

Rosales said his absence “is really felt on the school campus right now.” Plant Manager Gonzalo Gonzalez worked with "Sal" for 14 years and were close friends. “Sal was a happy go lucky friendly guy who got along with everybody and was very well liked,” Gonzalez said. “He enjoyed his work and called it his ‘home away from home.’ Everyone knew Sal. He was a very positive person. Things aren't going to be the same.” The custodian and groundskeeper did more than his job description, Gonzalez said, he worked security during the Friday night football games and was asset to the school building operations.

Orellana enjoyed traveling and hiking and went with teachers hiking in Utah and in Death Valley. Gonzalez said his friend enjoyed the racetrack. “Someone who is drinking and driving caused this, which now impacts everyone who knew my father,” Karen said.

The suspected drunk driver was arrested and was reported to have only minor injuries. “My father used to like to make people laugh, and so many people knew him especially in San Fernando and Sylmar,” Karen said. “We would go into a store and there was always someone we'd run into that he knew. I'd laugh and joke with him with about it and he would just say, 'Well, I talk to everybody.’” “He had one of those infectious smiles and was positive.

Sal was always working year round and knew a lot of people in the district. He was a major part of our campus and was the sort of guy that if you knew him once, you knew him forever." Rosales said. Memorial services are pending The school is accepting donations for the family. Those who would like to donate can drop off donations to assist the family at the main office at Van Nuys high school or mail them to: Van Nuys High School 6535 Cedros Van Nuys Avenue Van nUYS 91411. For more fundraising information contact: Karen Orrelana aT 310 765-0509

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Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 16:33