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3 family members killed in I-182 rollover

RICHLAND — A 10-year-old boy curled up on the side of Interstate 182 early Sunday after trying to get help for a crash that had killed his parents and younger cousin.

Authorities don't know how long the boy had been laying on the shoulder before a firefighter found him near some bushes, but the deadly rollover went unnoticed for about five hours until reports came in about a pedestrian in the area.

A Washington State Patrol trooper found the wrecked 2001 GMC Yukon at 7:13 a.m. off the highway at the eastbound Interstate 82 on-ramp. The single-car crash is believed to have occurred at 2:20 a.m.

Joel Barajas, 32, and Bertha A. Barajas, 28, along with their 8-year-old nephew, Cristian Valdez, were all pronounced dead at the scene.

The couple's three children all survived with minor to no injuries.

Troopers still are gathering information from the crash scene and relatives of the victims, but alcohol and speed so far are believed to be factors, said state patrol Sgt. Debbie Wilson.

The Barajas left a birthday party in Pasco sometime between 1 and 2 a.m. and headed home to Sunnyside, Wilson said. A family member reportedly was driving behind the Yukon on I-182 when Barajas missed the I-82 westbound exit and started heading for the eastbound ramp.

That relative called Barajas on his cell phone to advise him of his error, Wilson said. Barajas reportedly said he would turn around at the next exit, but the relative never heard from him.

"Family members said probably due to the intoxication he didn't know which exit to take and missed the exit he was supposed to take," Wilson said. "It's very unfortunate."

She said detectives are getting cell phone records to see if the wreck was a result of being on the phone. The looping on-ramp about two miles west of Richland is posted with warnings to slow down, but evidence at the scene shows Joel Barajas was "doing well over 35 (mph)," she said.

The Yukon rolled several times before coming to a stop. The car battery came out of the engine compartment in the crash so passing motorists wouldn't have seen headlights in the dark area, Wilson said.

The couple's oldest son got out of the wreckage at some point and tried to flag down cars along the highway. It was only about sunrise that authorities got reports of a pedestrian, and a trooper finally found the family and their vehicle by using a spotlight.

Both adults were not wearing seat belts and were ejected from the SUV.

Valdez didn't have appropriate safety restraints and was partially ejected. Relatives notified the boy's parents, who were vacationing in Arizona, she said.

The names of the Barajas children were not released.

An 8-year-old girl was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, then flown to a Spokane hospital for treatment of a broken leg, Wilson said.

Her older brother was taken to Kadlec for a broken ankle.

A 2-year-old boy remained secured in his car seat in the crash and was not hurt.

"Definitely in a case like this it's proof positive that wearing a seat belt is a life-saving decision," Wilson said.

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