Mark McDermott

MCHS student loses mother, sister to a car crash on NYE

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Mira Costa student Christian Castillo and his little brother and sister, Logan and Payton. Photo courtesy the Castillo family

by Mark McDermott

A four-car collision in Garden Grove on New Year’s Eve killed 33-year old Jolene “Jojo” Castillo, and her 9-year old daughter, Payton. Seven-year-old Logan Castillo was in the back seat and survived without any injuries.

The tragedy has a local connection. Christian Castillo, the oldest of Joleen and Danny Castillo’s four children, is a sophomore at Mira Costa High School. Castillo is a permit student who is a promising young baseball pitcher for the Mustangs.

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MCHS Principal Ben Dale said the school community is trying to let the Castillo family and particularly Christian know that they are not alone in their time of tragedy.

“As soon as we heard, the Costa family rallied around the Castillo family,” Dale said. “The baseball coach, boosters, and friends were right there to provide support. His counselor and teachers have been made aware of the situation and we will do all we can to reinforce the feeling that we are his family.”

MCHS head baseball coach Keith Ramsey said that the entire team is rallying to help Christian Castillo.

“We are just trying to be there for him every day,” he said. “I think all of our kids have stepped up. They understand the gravity of the situation”

Two fundraising drives are underway to help the family. One is a GoFundMe page established to raise money for Joleen and Payton’s funeral and memorial. Another is an educational fund being established to make sure the two boys have funds to continue their schooling.

Chris Miller, a Mira Costa graduate, is a friend of the Castillos’ next door neighbors in Hawthorne and has witnessed the entire neighborhood’s devastation. Payton, she said, was known for her buoyant, playful spirit and her love of animals.

“Imagine if your next door neighbor just disappeared like this,” Miller said. “She was a little girl who loved animals and would ask the neighbors, ‘Please help me save this butterfly, or bird.’ Just little things like that are gone now…It’s one of those things we don’t think about, how quickly it can all just evaporate, someone’s whole life is gone. Their Christmas decorations are still up. Neighbors are crying. Imagine being nine and losing a friend. All kinds of wrong things, at this point in time, caused by a negligent driver.”

The driver, Melvin Branch, 30, was originally arrested for suspected drunk driving. He has since been released. Orange County Sheriffs say there is insufficient evidence currently to proceed with a DUI charge.

Miller helped the family out by taking the family’s two dogs to a no-kill shelter in San Pedro. The dogs were largely alone for nearly a week, Miller said. Joleen and Danny Castillo no longer live together.

The baseball team has started a “meal train” program for the Castillo family that is booked for two months, and many boosters and parents have contributed to the fundraising efforts.

“It’s been good to see kids understand how important this is for them — their role is they have to be there for Christian now. It’s vitally important,” Ramsey said. “He’s part of our program and part of our family. This is what you do.”  

Miller said the same holds true for the entire Costa family.

“It’s really who we are for each other that makes everything work,” she said. “The family is so relieved to know there are people out there who care.”

The GoFundMe drive has raised $59,000 towards a $75,000 goal to pay for the memorial and funeral of JoJo and Payton, which took place Sunday. It can be found by searching for Jojo and Payton. The education fund was just established this week. For more information, contact Jerry Mitchell at 310-329-5150 ext. 286 or email and ask about the Christian and Logan Castillo College Fund.


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