6 months, 3 dead kids, 0 charges

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Mom Erin Hill and stepdad Jim McDade: Family of victim Yvette Gonzalez.

THE DAY AFTER her little sister's funeral, Crystal Smith searched the piles of condolence cards her family had received. She was desperate to find something from Christopher Bloomfield.

She also reread the small notes that accompanied the flowers that had crowded the funeral home. She hoped one of the arrangements was from Bloomfield, to express his sorrow that Sabrina had died.

"I prayed so hard that he would've found it in his heart to say he was sorry," says Smith.

But there was nothing from Bloomfield, who was behind the wheel of a 2007 Acura last July 29 when it jumped a curb on a tight bend of Sandmeyer Lane, a well-known drag-racing strip in a Northeast Philly industrial park.

The Acura was hurtling at more than 75 mph, said police. It exploded into pieces when it hit a tree.

Three of Bloomfield's passengers were killed instantly: Smith's sister, Sabrina Rhoads, and Yvette Gonzalez, both 17, were ejected from the car, and Felipe Hernandez, 20, died inside the smoking wreckage. Critically injured was Bogdan Arutyunov, 18, who is still recovering from massive injuries suffered when he was thrown into the road.

Bloomfield, now 20, son of a Philadelphia firefighter, left the scene before medics arrived. So did the young driver and occupants of a second car who reportedly were present at the time of the wreck. Surely at least one of them - or one of their parents - would've had the decency to reach out by now to the victims' families to offer condolences?

But there has been silence.

"I guess these kids were nothing to them," Smith says bitterly.

She also is outraged that, not long after the crash, Bloomfield posted a bizarre, 360-degree "selfie" video on Instagram that appears to have been shot while he was driving - a reckless act by any stretch of the imagination.

Bloomfield's lack of contact is exacerbated by the fact that almost six months after the crash, no charges have been filed against anyone. Citing the ongoing investigation, Sgt. Joe Rossa, who supervises fatal-accident investigations for Philadelphia police, wouldn't comment on the case. Nor would a spokesman in the District Attorney's Office.

But sources tell me the wreck is hardly forgotten. Investigators and prosecutors are methodically putting their ducks in a row in a case that has been complicated by mute, missing, or compromised eyewitnesses.

It also has taken time to find surveillance video to help piece together a timeline of events that night; to identify the driver and passengers in the second car; to separate solid tips from whisper-down-the-lane rumors. In the case of at least one passenger - the injured teen Arutyunov - his DNA had to be matched to DNA in the car from which he was ejected to prove he'd been a passenger in Bloomfield's Acura.

As one insider said of the investigation: "We can do it - or we can do it right."

But that's little comfort to victims' devastated families, who want justice for their kids already.

"Chris Bloomfield took my daughter - my best friend - away from me," says Erin Hill, mom of Yvette Gonzalez.

She weeps as she describes the horror, on the day after the wreck, of pulling strands of her daughter's hair from the bark of a tree at the crash site. She buried Gonzalez in the gown and tiara the teen had planned to wear to the next prom at George Washington High School, where, with Sabrina Rhoads, she would've been a senior this year.

"This wasn't an accident. When you drive that fast, the odds are you're going to crash," Hill says. "Chris Bloomfield made the choice to be reckless."

Jo-Jo Hernandez, mother of deceased victim Felipe Hernandez, remains patient with the investigation.

"I trust the investigators," she says. "You have to follow the process to follow the law."

Like the others, though, she cannot understand why Bloomfield has not reached out to offer condolences to her family.

Bloomfield and her son had been fairly close; they met as students at Lincoln Technical Institute, where both were studying automotive technology. They got along well enough that they eventually shared an apartment. But the arrangement didn't last long.

"They had their differences," Hernandez says, so her son moved out. He stayed friendly with Bloomfield, though, because "Felipe was a peacemaker. He gave people second chances. He saw the good in everyone."

Hernandez is also appalled that Bloomfield and others left the scene where three friends had died and a fourth was fighting for his life in the road.

"I'm the type of person, if I see someone about to fall, I'll reach out to them and say, 'Watch out!' " she says. "It's a human impulse to not want people to get hurt, to help. It comes from the heart. It's a matter of character and values. I'd do it for a stranger."

Bloomfield's attorney, James Funt, declined to comment about Bloomfield's behavior, citing the ongoing investigation. So I was unable to ask about the Instagram messages Bloomfield shared with Sabrina Rhoads' younger brother, Tyler, who'd accused Bloomfield of showing little remorse for the crash.

"Look, I'm not arguing with anyone else about that tragic accident," Bloomfield responded to Tyler Rhoads. "I wanna move on with my life and live my life. Staying sad and miserable won't fix anything."

First, though, Bloomfield faces a Feb. 1 trial for illegal gun possession - an offense for which he was charged on July 29, 2014, exactly a year before the fatal wreck on Sandmeyer Lane.

Arutyunov, who survived the crash, says that not only did he not know about the gun charge, he can't recall ever meeting Bloomfield. Arutyunov was friends with Yvette Gonzalez and Sabrina Rhoads, whom he knew from George Washington. But he has no memory of how they all wound up in Bloomfield's car.

Arutyunov's injuries were catastrophic. The crash put him in a coma and broke his pelvis, nose, femur, tibia, ankle, elbow, and orbit. It also punctured his lung, and tore a knee ligament and calf muscle. He needs additional surgeries to repair his leg and nose, but is miraculously clearheaded and mobile for a young man who was so terribly injured.

It's surreal to have an entire chunk of his memory missing, says Arutyunov, whom I met this week in the Huntingdon Valley office of his attorney, Andrew Baratta. He hopes someone with information about what happened that day, prior to the crash, will read this and contact Baratta to fill in the gaps for them.

"I think every day about what has happened to me" and to those killed in the accident that almost took his life, says Arutyunov. Before the accident, he had been an A-to-B student and a mixed-martial-arts practitioner with dreams of becoming a surgeon. Now he's being home-schooled to catch up with his classmates. College and medical school are still in the future, he stresses, but are delayed while he recovers.

"I am grateful to be alive and also very sad," says Arutyunov, a polite, soft-spoken young man who is close with his parents and two brothers. And he thinks Bloomfield needs to face justice for what happened on Sandmeyer Lane.

All the families do.

These are good people who raised really nice kids whose luck ran out late one summer night on a dark, curving road.

They want to know how their kids came to be there. The only people who can tell them are Bloomfield and the young people in the second vehicle.

They deserve answers. Soon.

Email: polaner@phillynews.com

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