The relatives who were on the phone call were supposed to be on the road trip but could not make it.
The crash shut down several lanes of eastbound Interstate 80 in Albany for a couple of hours around 10 a.m. Traffic was flowing smoothly by 5 p.m., but just hours earlier, it was at a virtual standstill.
The twisted wreckage left little to the imagination. The scene was so gruesome officers had to cover it with sheets, but the victim's brother-in-law Francisco Villa did not have to imagine what happened to the family inside the white SUV. He and his wife were on the phone with them and heard it all.
"His wife called and say we ready to go to Reno. Come on, let's go, follow us. And, like five seconds later, we hear screeching, screaming, and we lost the call," Villa recalled.
Villa and his family rushed to the stretch of Interstate 80 in Albany fearing the worst had happened to his sister-in-law and her husband. Through a wire fence on the side of the freeway, they watched as investigators tried to piece together the clues.
"After five minutes, she called back and said, 'There's been a big accident. He's not out of the car.' I know something bad happened to him," Villa said.
The worst had happened. Relatives identified the driver as Napoleon Quintero. He died at the scene. His wife, 10-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son were rushed to the hospital. Authorities say Quintero, for some reason, overcorrected and the SUV rolled over multiple times.
The wreck had traffic backed up for miles.
"We're not sure what happened prior to him losing control, if he was possibly distracted or talking to passengers, or reaching for something," said Trent Cross with the CHP. "Any of those things are a possibility, but in the end result, it resulted in someone losing their life."
Quintero had $3,000 in his pocket, an income tax return that had just arrived in the mail. All the Oakland father wanted to do was to take his family on a getaway to Reno and test their luck.
"He got his taxes back, so he wanted to spend with his family," Villa said.
The CHP does not believe alcohol or drugs played a role in this crash and they say the father was driving at or near the speed limit. The mother and children suffered moderate injuries but are expected to survive.