It’s not every day that snow piles up 30 inches deep. But during the winter of 2016 New Jersey was in the midst of an almighty blizzard. Just a few inches more, in fact, and it would have been the heaviest snowfall that some areas of the state had seen in over a century.
Nevertheless, life went on for local residents. People in the northeastern states of the U.S. are used to heavy snowfall, after all. And in the aftermath of the 2016 storm, one dad in Passaic, New Jersey, was working hard to dig his family’s car out of the snow.
He chiseled his way through the snow as his girlfriend and two young children waited patiently inside the vehicle. Little did he know, though, that something as simple as shoveling snow could have tragic consequences. That was a lesson that he would have to learn in the hardest way imaginable.
Before his life changed on that fateful night, Felix Bonilla Jr. was by all accounts a doting dad. He had two children with his girlfriend Sashalynn Rosa, 23. Their daughter, Saniyah, was three years old, while their baby son, Messiah, was just one.
Felix worked hard to support his young family. But when he wasn’t clocked in at his job – he was employed at a local restaurant depot – he loved to be with his daughter and son.
So it was no surprise that on the night of January 23, 2016, Felix put his family’s needs before his own. Their car was, of course, blanketed in snow. And Felix decided that it was his responsibility to shovel it away so that they’d be able to use the vehicle.
True to character, he didn’t want his family waiting around, shivering in the cold while he finished the job. Instead, they sat in the warm car while he worked, digging his way through the snow that had covered the entire vehicle.
As he worked, however, he had no idea that he was putting his family in grave danger. And before he knew it, his girlfriend and his one-year-old son would be dead, while his three-year-old daughter would be fighting for her life.
It turned out that Felix had made a grave error. He forgot to check the tailpipe, through which the car’s most dangerous fumes escape from the engine. Unbeknownst to him, you see, the tailpipe on their car had become blocked by snow and ice.
Felix had left the car’s engine going to keep his family cosy while he worked. But the blocked tailpipe prevented the engine’s toxic exhaust fumes from exiting the vehicle. Instead, the dangerous gases, including carbon monoxide, blew back into the car. The father-of-two, meanwhile, was completely oblivious to what was happening.
Worse still, his family had no inkling as to what was happening, either. Carbon monoxide is often called “the silent killer,” because it works so stealthily. In fact, the scentless, colorless gas causes around 500 deaths per year in the U.S. alone.
And, horrifyingly, Felix would lose his family to this silent killer in the midst of the huge snowstorm. The tragic scene would put passersby into a state of shock.
“It’s hard, man,” Felix’s father told ABC 7. “It’s hard, hard. Lose two lovely people, healthy people. You know, losing it like that…” He trailed off, clearly having trouble finding words at such a devastating time.
Bonilla Sr. had lost the mother of his grandchildren, as well as his grandson, Messiah. But there was still hope for his three-year-old granddaughter, Saniyah. Thankfully, an onlooker had stepped in to save her. Nevertheless, the child was in a critical condition.
“I tried to help the girl, and I put my mouth in,” said Isabel Carmona, who had come to Saniyah’s aid. “Girls and paramedics worked so hard, so hard to save the kid.” And together, she and the first responders had kept the girl alive.
However, Saniyah’s condition did not improve significantly after the paramedics took her for treatment in nearby Paterson. “The doctors say they don’t think she’s going to make it,” her grandfather revealed. “Doctor says she has a slight chance to make it.”
Unsurprisingly, Felix’s father said that his son was absolutely devastated by his mistake. In the wake of the accident, he wouldn’t leave Saniyah’s bedside at the hospital. “My son, he’s not doing good. Real bad,” his father reported.
Cruelly, the situation would become even worse for Felix as well. Five days after the accident, his daughter also succumbed to the poison that she’d inhaled. With one mistake, the doting dad had lost his entire family.
In the wake of the tragedy, local police reminded families to check their tailpipes, especially during winter storms. The Passaic Police Department’s battalion chief, Chris DiBella, also subsequently issued a warning about the dangers of heavy snowfall.
“Any snow that covers your tailpipe, you want to shovel the snow from the back of the car and clear the tailpipe before you even start the car,” he said. And as he tries to move forward and rebuild his life, that’s surely a lesson that Felix Bonilla Jr. will never forget.