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An Elotero and His Family in Santa Ana Seek Financial Help After a Firework Severs His Hand

2:58 PM PDT on June 28, 2022

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

Santa Ana street vendor Francisco Azcona and his wife Jacqueline.

It was around 10 AM when street vendor Francisco Azcona and his cuñado Luis López, two elote street vendors in Santa Ana, finished their food prep for their daily shift when the unexpected happened. According to Azcona, that Friday morning on June 17, he was about to have breakfast, change, and go on his daily vending route on Bristol and McFadden when he decided to go outside to clear some trash in the front yard. That was when he said he picked up a golf ball-sized ball of foil that he believed to be trash. Unfortunately for Azcona, the mysterious ball was not trash. In less than a minute or so, the ball of foil exploded, destroying his left hand and causing injuries to his chest, right hand, and face.

“I don't remember much because I blacked out,” Azcona said. “But when I came back, I noticed I was missing my hand because I tried to get up and didn't see it. My arm just went down.”

Since the 4th of July is just around the corner hearing loud bangs and explosion-like noises at all hours of the day is not uncommon. The loud booms from fireworks and makeshift fireworks are heard near and far on most days and nights, some so loud they set off a chain reaction of car alarms. This is why López, who was inside with his wife, sister-in-law, and children, said they didn't think much about the loud bang.

“Fireworks are always being popped in the neighborhood, so no pensamos nada (we didn't think anything,)” Lopez said in Spanish. “But not long after, I saw and heard mi cuñado on the floor screaming for us.”

The 22-year-old elotero who just two months ago arrived in Santa Ana from Puebla, México, was rushed to the hospital. From what López and his family can remember, the explosion was not only big enough to completely sever Azcona’s left hand but also shattered López’s car window and left a crack in a nearby tree. 

Left photo of the fractured tree via Janette Villafana for L.A. Taco, Right photo via Francisco Azcona.

"Vinieron los policías [de Santa Ana] y nos dieron la orden de no acercarnos y nos dijeron que era una bomba expansiva,” dijo López a People En Espanol. “The [Santa Ana] police came and gave us the order not to approach and told us it was an expansive bomb,” said López to People en Espanol

López’s 10-year-old daughter, who was home with his pregnant wife at the time, was said to be the translator for her mother as she tried explaining to the police what had just happened. 

“She tried to translate as best as she could,” said López as he stood outside his home near the area where it all happened. 

When asked if they thought this was some sort of attack on them, both Azcona and López said no. “We are street vendors, and we know everyone in this neighborhood, even the homeless. We are nice to everyone and have never had problems,” reassured López in Spanish.

Azcona, who is currently recovering from his injuries, said he has a young daughter back home in Puebla. Both he and his wife came to Santa Ana seeking to create and secure a better future for their family. The family is currently seeking the public’s help and is raising funds through a GoFundMe to help cover hospital, and recovery expenses, as well as other financial help, seeing as he will not be able to work until he has fully recovered. The GoFundMe has reached over $20,000 since being posted. 

López, who is currently the only one in the family selling elotes, said that a family member was able to assist them in setting up a GoFundMe.

“We don’t know how to set those things up, so someone helped us, but I have also been collecting donations when I go sell,” said López placing a little jar on his cart to receive the donations. He said since the first publication of their story, people have doubted and judged them. 

“There are people who have told me they think we lit the ball or that say that we are lying about him losing his hand,” said López. “And I always tell them they can come to visit him if they don't believe us. Why would we lie about him losing a hand?”

L.A. TACO did reach out to the Santa Ana Police department to confirm details about the incident of which they were well aware, and their response was: "It’s our understanding based on the officers who reported to the scene that it was a firework. It appears that they tried to light the firework...Based on evidence and statements, they concluded that if you see the picture of his injuries, they are consistent with someone trying to light up a firework, so it was concluded that the firework was trying to be lit."

When Azcona was asked about the possibility of him lighting the firework, he immediately said no and denied the claims. But whether he lit the firework or whether it was placed there, López said, "he lost a hand. He's about to face new challenges." He expressed how traumatic the experience has been for them and for Azcona. He said, unlike before now, he is more cautious about picking anything up while he is out selling. 

“I sometimes want to cry because this happened, but then I look at him, and he wakes up with a positive attitude, so how could I complain?” said López about Azcona as he rested his arms for a moment. “He is going to have to learn how to live without a hand, and that is going to be hard, but we know he is going to be fine. He is strong.”

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