VACAVILLE / Driver in program for mental illness / Car that killed 2 siblings was speeding on road's shoulder

The man whose car struck and killed two children and injured 10 other people on a Vacaville sidewalk was a recluse, according to neighbors, and lived in a county-funded apartment for mentally ill people, a manager of a private mental health program said.

David Michael Bell, 24, was arrested and booked on two counts of murder Wednesday in the deaths of 9-year-old Ana Cardenas and her 7-year-old brother, Luis Cardenas.

A hill of balloons, stuffed animals and flowers accumulated at the flagpole in front of Eugene Padan Elementary School, where Luis and Ana were in first and third grades. A card lay open with messages from their classmates: "You're in a better place!" read one signed by Breann Castro.

Parent David Nicholson, who watched the Ford Taurus barrel down Davis Street straddling the curb Wednesday, said the car threw the Cardenas children 15 or 20 feet before pinning a woman, a baby in a stroller and other children against a tree when it finally stopped.

"The two kids were friends of my kids," Nicholson said. "My daughter and Ana went to Girl Scouts together. We always gave them a ride home after Girl Scouts. ... She was a very outgoing, friendly girl -- very talkative, always smiling. Her and my daughter were always laughing all the time. I never saw her mad."

"The boy was a young boy, feisty, outgoing and active," Nicholson said. "They never caused any trouble."

He said that he saw Luis fly through the air and land on the sidewalk, and that it did not appear that the Taurus' driver ever applied the brakes.

"I saw the car split in half, and then it was against this girl stuck up against a tree," said his daughter Natalia, 9, a fourth-grader who watched the incident, along with her 6-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother. "There were kids all over the place and adults all over the place. Some people were bleeding a lot. I saw people putting jackets over the children to keep them warm and to stop the bleeding."

Of the 10 people injured in the incident, four have been released from area hospitals. Six remain hospitalized with moderate to severe injuries, according to a Vacaville Police Department statement.

Bell's neighbors in a middle-income neighborhood near Air Base Parkway and South Texas Avenue in Fairfield said they were not surprised by his arrest.

Joanna Cholico, 16, who lives next door to Bell but not in a county-supported unit, said Bell would yell at children in the neighborhood on the rare occasions he came out of his apartment.

"It was like he was a creep or something," said Cholico. "No one has talked to him. He would always stay inside."

Bell's roommate, Albert Travis, said Bell did not even talk to him. The two have lived in their ground-level apartment since May. The apartment is in a collection of two-story blue wooden buildings that encircle a parking lot where local children said Thursday that they frequently play ball.

Travis said Bell kept his door locked and stayed in his room most of the time.

"I can't get in, and I don't have keys to his room," Travis said. "He basically kept to himself."

Bell is a client of Caminar Solano, a nonprofit mental health organization that typically serves people referred by county agencies after receiving a diagnosis of mental illness, said Roger Wiere, the organization's services director.

Wiere said Bell came to Caminar Solano several years ago from the Solano County Mental Health Division, though he would not discuss the circumstances. Clients in the units that Caminar Solano rents in Bell's complex are in a program that offers moderate to intensive rehabilitation for people who do not require residential treatment, Wiere said.

Caminar Solano, one of four programs run by a San Mateo nonprofit called Caminar, offers community and residential treatment programs for about 50 clients plus a 13-bed residential crisis center and two drop-in self-help centers that serve about 40 people, said Wiere.

Parents of students at Padan Elementary said unsafe driving is common in the area, a residential neighborhood where many of the school's roughly 800 students walk to and from school.

That walk was a ritual part of Ana and Luis' daily schedule, said an uncle, Jesus Cardenas. They walked home with the same group of friends, whose families are all from the same town in Mexico, Guamuchil, in the Pacific state of Sinaloa.

Cardenas said the family plans to take the children's families back to Guamuchil, where their mother, Maria Lourdez, is now. She usually lives with the children and their father in Vacaville but left a few weeks ago for a dental appointment in Mexico.

Cardenas said his brother, Luis, is coping.

"He's very strong; he's praying to God to know how to handle this," Cardenas said.

The children's apartment is in a group of long, one-story buildings with stoops where neighbors, many also from Guamuchil, sat outside chatting in Spanish on Thursday evening.

Counselors, police and district staff were on guard throughout the day at Padan, where the flags flew at half-staff.

Superintendent John Aycock of the Vacaville Unified School District said about 20 percent of the students at the kindergarten through sixth-grade school were absent Thursday. Another 200 were referred to counselors to help them cope with the grief of losing their classmates.

Five-year-old Jordyn Whiteside walked to school with her mom and 2-year-old sister, carrying flowers and a pair of stuffed animals for the memorial.

"She's a little scared, but she said, 'I need to be with my friends,' " said Jaime Whiteside, Jordyn's mother.

Whiteside said she's fed up with the speeding cars near the school and is considering moving.

There were no skid marks on the sidewalk where the children were hit or on the street where Bell had been driving at a speed police estimate at 70 mph.

"We believe that he saw the congestion ahead as he was approaching the area of the school, and made the decision to attempt to pass the slow traffic by using the right shoulder of the road at a continued high rate of speed," according to a statement the police department released Thursday.

His Ford Taurus left Davis Street near the corner of Padan School Road and tore along a fence of black metal vertical bars, which lay tangled on the ground Thursday as students walked by on their way home from school.

From there, the car continued along the sidewalk and hit the children.

Vacaville Police Lt. Craig Rossiter said Bell's Taurus hit a parked Chevrolet Camaro about 2:15 p.m., and police didn't find evidence he was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Other vehicles in the area were operating safely, and pedestrians were properly using a nearby crosswalk under the supervision of the crossing guard on duty, Rossiter said.