AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe Christmas Truce of 1914 proved that peace is possibleEdith Delgado, the Mustang’s driver, was 18, with a newly minted driver’s license. Traffic was heavy; the SUV slowed, the Mustang didn’t. It was almost 9 p.m. on Route 101, and worlds were about to collide. — Edith Delgado lived in a small, blue-and-white trailer home trimmed with rose bushes near the 101 outside Redwood City. It was the highway she took to meet her friends, go to parties and maybe the one that would one day lead her away from her ordinary life. Delgado was a hard worker – when she wanted to be. At Best Buy (and later, at Bank of America) she earned enough to pay her cell phone bill and to feed her hunger for the Jordan tennis shoes that filled her closet to bursting. SAN JOSE – There was just one last trip for the prince to make. And if there was a chance for democracy in his country of Tonga, the time was now. As the country’s only royal political reformer, Prince Tu’ipelehake had been meeting with the common people, asking what they wanted from their government, for their country’s future. Now he was in America to seek the opinions of expatriate Tongans. In the darkness of a California night, the prince, his wife and their driver rode down the 101 Highway. The next day, he planned to meet with San Francisco Bay-area Tongans. Nearby, a white Mustang and a black Escalade were flying down the busy highway – racing, according to witnesses, faster and faster, until they were going 90, maybe 100 mph. The youngest of four, the baby who was both doted on and teased, she grew up watching her parents work hard to provide for her and her siblings. Her father, Jose Luis Delgado, is a fiberglass finisher, and her mother, Graciela Delgado, cares for a sick friend in her home. She racked up hours at Best Buy but slowly neglected her high school classes. Often, friends say, she arrived late, never went to class at all or didn’t do her homework. She was too busy at her job or just didn’t want to go. But Delgado wanted a change. She wanted a better life, far away from Redwood City. “I need to stop,” she told her friend Carolina Galdamez. “I need to start coming to school.” She enrolled at Redwood High School, a place for students who fall behind elsewhere. Principal Denise Plante immediately liked this spirited girl with brown, wavy hair and full lips, a silly, fun-loving student who made friends easily and didn’t give her teachers trouble. Soon, Delgado made the honor roll. Plante rewarded her with pizza parties and other treats. “She really wanted to do well,” Plante said. Priscilla Contreras had noticed the change in her friend. The two had grown up together, first in the trailer park, then in elementary school and later in high school. When Contreras had a baby, it was Delgado who would often come over and sit with her. “She told me she didn’t want to live her life just working,” she said. “She wanted to do something more. She wanted better for herself and for her mom.” Her new job as a bank teller stoked her dreams. She loved working there; perhaps, she told her sister, she might someday be a loan officer. In February, Delgado got her driver’s license. She would plead with her father to allow her to drive his 1998 Mustang. Her friends recalled how much she loved that car. “Come on, let me take the car,” Delgado asked her father, according to Galdamez. “I’m just going to work.” — The Kingdom of Tonga lies two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand and a world away from the tiny trailer park where Edith Delgado lived. These are Capt. James Cook’s “Friendly Islands,” a Polynesian paradise of gorgeous, serene beaches and coconut palm trees, home to just 102,000 people. In Tonga, families watch out for each other’s children. Island life is so different from fast-paced America, where many Tongans have moved to earn money to send home. Tongans are taught to revere the monarchy and not to criticize their leaders. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want change. The king has near-absolute power. He appoints members of his Cabinet, who serve until retirement or death. The king sits with them in the 30-member parliament, which includes nine members elected by the people. The democracy movement has gotten stronger over the years, and pressure has been mounting for the king to surrender his powers to an elected parliament. Last year, seven of the nine seats in parliament went to candidates who support a democracy. Last August, thousands of public servants, their families and supporters marched through the streets of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, calling for higher wages. But it was the leader of the march who garnered the most attention. Surprisingly, it was not a commoner who led the people to the palace to deliver the petition. It was Prince Tu’ipelehake – nephew of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, the monarch who would die in September after a 41-year reign. With that one gesture, the prince became the “people’s prince,” the first royal to truly connect with the people and really listen to their views. “One thing that has been characteristic of the Tongan royal family for the last 100 years is they don’t listen,” said Kalafi Moala, publisher of the Taimi `O Tonga or the Times of Tonga. “Here’s a royal that kind of went out to the people and said, `What do you want?”‘ The prince, 55, believed that dialogue could resolve a growing political confrontation between the people and the South Pacific’s last ruling monarchy. So the prince, a nobles representative in parliament, proposed commissioning a national committee for political reform. The government endorsed it, with the prince as chairman, and he set about to learn exactly what Tongans want in their government. His 46-year-old wife, Princess Kaimana Fielakepa, the daughter of a noble, was a huge influence on the prince. Holder of a master’s degree in foreign affairs from the Australian National University, she had worked for the minister of foreign affairs in Tonga and for the Tongan High Commission in London. Without her, said Moala, “he wouldn’t be as strong in the positions that he took.” Since January, the prince had talked with Tongans at home, in New Zealand and Australia. All that was left was a trip to America to meet others living in California, Utah, Washington and Hawaii. The committee was to issue its report to the king at the end of August. On the night of July 5, the prince and princess apparently were heading back to their hotel in Burlingame along with their driver, Vinisia Hefa, a Tongan who lived in East Palo Alto. The next day, they were scheduled to take the same road to a San Bruno church hall and another meeting with their countrymen, another step toward reform. — “It looked like the Mustang wanted to win,” said witness Adam Vasaei. Another said the Mustang and the Escalade blew right by him. The speeds were “obscene.” Steve Wagstaffe, chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, said other witnesses called 911. “Hey, there’s a white Mustang that’s driving crazy out on the road, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic,” a caller reported. In heavy traffic, the Escalade slowed in the right-hand lane. But when Delgado found herself stuck behind a slower vehicle in the left-hand lane, she tried to pass and slip in front of a red Ford Explorer. Instead, she crashed into the Explorer’s left side. Its driver lost control; the SUV rolled several times until it came to rest on its top off the side of the highway. Inside were Prince Tu’ipelehake, Princess Kaimana Fielakepa and their driver; all were wearing seat belts. When the SUV stopped, the royals were suspended from their seat belts. All were dead. — Sometimes the father hears the creak of his front door and turns to see his baby girl bursting into the room. Only Jose Luis Delgado looks again, and knows Edith isn’t there. She was not injured in the accident. She was charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter and is in jail on $1 million bond, reduced earlier this month from $3 million. She has pleaded not guilty. She hasn’t been charged with racing because authorities lack evidence; they’ve not tracked down the driver of the Escalade, though they have interviewed a passenger in Delgado’s car. Her attorney, Randy Moore, said Edith was not racing and he isn’t even sure if she was speeding. She faces up to eight years in prison. Her family is unable to pay her bond. They spend many nights talking and wondering how this all happened. Her mother stares at the ground and hardly speaks. Her brother, Juan, breaks down and grabs his father for support when he talks about his little sister. “I think this girl led a pretty sweet, loving life,” Moore said. “I think all of them (family) had hopes and aspirations tied around that baby girl.” Tonga, meanwhile, is in mourning. Thousands attended the funeral of the prince and princess. Some fear that with the death of the prince, the democracy movement will lose momentum. Who will take his place as a bridge between the royal family and the people? But others think the tragedy will hasten reform. “His death really brought to the limelight this idea,” said Pesi Fonua, publisher and editor of Matangi Tonga Online. “And now people are really talking about it, trying to understand better what he was trying to do. “His death really did a lot of good for what he wanted to happen.” At the funeral, something happened that the prince had wanted for a long time. There, amid so much sorrow and so many questions, supporters of the pro-democracy movement and members of the royal family came together – to talk.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!