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Restaurant Steps Up For Mother Whose Kids Died In Crash

A photo collage memorial to 5-year-old Eric Ochoa and his 10-month-old sister, Julissa, who both died in a high-speed crash in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. (Credit: CBS)

A photo collage memorial to 5-year-old Eric Ochoa and his 10-month-old sister, Julissa, who both died in a high-speed crash in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 04/05/12 – 5:13 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The restaurant that employs the mother of two children killed in an auto crash on the south side last month is trying to give the family a helping hand.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, nothing will bring back 5-year-old Eric Ochoa, or his 10-month-old sister Julissa. But with two broken collarbones and an injured fiancé, Bernice Cabrera is struggling.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

Cabrera is unable to work, and she has made no secret of the fact that she faces huge bills, not the least of which is paying for the children’s funeral.

So Med Kitchen, the restaurant where she works, held a fundraiser on Thursday. The restaurant donated its entire proceeds from the day to the Cabrera Family Trust Fund that was set up at BMO Harris Bank after the crash.

Owner Vicki Thanoukos said the restaurant is holding open Cabrera’s job, no matter how long her recovery takes. Cabrera had only worked for a month as a cashier in the restaurant, located at 219 W. Washington St.

“Bernice and her fiancé Eric, they’re a young couple who had something unspeakable happen to them, and we are all doing what we can to lend a helping hand,” Thanoukos said.

Business was brisk at Med Kitchen Thursday afternoon, a good sign for the trust fund. The proceeds from Thursday were estimated to be several thousand dollars.

The children’s photos were displayed at the restaurant during the day.

Cabrera said she’s touched by the kindness shown by her employer and co-workers.

“I’m at a loss for words. From deep down in my heart, I appreciate everyone,” she said. “It helps us to be strong, and able to cope with this.”

The kids’ father, for whom Eric was named, described the outpouring of support they’ve received since the fatal wreck.

“People stop me in the middle of the street, telling me that they feel the pain. … I feel so much love,” he said.

The driver who caused the wreck, 36-year-old Joey Chavez, was charged with two felony counts of aggravated DUI resulting in death, and two felony counts of aggravated DUI resulting in bodily harm. He was also issued several traffic tickets. He is being held on $500,000 bail.

Police said Chavez was driving south on Western Avenue at about 6:30 p.m. March 24 when he was involved in a hit-and-run crash with another vehicle that was heading north at 43rd Street. Chavez sped away from the scene while still heading south on Western when he rear-ended a Dodge Neon in the 4500 block of South Western Avenue.

Chavez’s sport-utility vehicle sustained severe front-end damage and the Neon was virtually destroyed by the impact. Witnesses said both cars flipped over during the crash.