Ill wind

ennifer Mallett flips through photos of her late boyfriend, Juan Carlos Oseguera, seeking a good one to send to his parents in Honduras. She laments that there isn't one showing the couple together.

"I know my father has a videotape with both of us on it," she says listlessly. "He was putting makeup on me, and my father saw it and filmed us through the door."

There is no chance of another photo being taken. Oseguera, 19, died last month when a softball-size hailstone smashed into his temple while he was trying to move his Mazda pickup to safety in the parking lot of the pizzeria where he worked.

"He was very happy here, working and studying," says Antonio Oseguera, who shared his house with his 19-year-old brother. "But he was worried about our family there. Our family depends on this money."

Oseguera had a sense of responsibility to his family that may seem heroic to First World Americans. The truck that he was working to pay off and died protecting was purchased for his family in Honduras, says his sister-in-law Lillian Ayala, who lived with him and his two brothers in Fort Worth. His father planned to use the truck to start transporting bananas from plantations to market. It would have been the first truck owned by the family in Honduras and a significant business step for the Oseguera family.

Juan Carlos Oseguera put the down payment on the truck just a week and a half before a tornado touched down in downtown Fort Worth on March 28. As the storm descended, Oseguera dashed to his vehicle, parked in the lot of CiCi's Pizza in Lake Worth and drove it around the building, where it was shielded. One hailstone clipped his head as he rounded the corner to seek shelter inside the pizzeria. Meteorologists say that the chance of being killed by a hailstone is less than that of being struck by lightning.

"You sit there, and you know that one split second could have saved his life," Mallett says. "He was just 10 feet from safety."

Oseguera's short biography is hardly the stereotypical picture of immigration that leaps to people's minds: He was a legal immigrant pursuing dual ambitions of adapting to his new country and supporting his family in Honduras.

Three years ago, Oseguera hit U.S. soil running, immediately enrolling in classes to learn English. After becoming proficient in the language, Oseguera continued taking general education classes while working at two CiCi's restaurants.

Oseguera may have come to the United States with the intention of returning to Latin America, but family members said he recently decided to create a new life here, a decision prompted by his relationship with Mallett, a co-worker at CiCi's Pizza. With the quiet conviction of a young lover, Mallett says that she and Oseguera were to be married after she was done with her home schooling. The couple had been together for three months.

Seated on the couch of the house Oseguera lived in, the 16-year-old Mallett said they planned to relocate somewhere in "the northeast" after he paid for and delivered the truck to his father. Still mourning, Mallett tonelessly described their saving their pizza money "to start our new lives," the flowers he sent her just days before the storm took him, and his caring nature.

"He didn't like to see anyone hurt or upset," she says. "He was so full of life."

Oseguera, or "Carlito," was the second youngest of 12 children, with four brothers living in the Fort Worth area and a sister in Colorado. Still, his thoughts and financial efforts remained focused on the family he left in his homeland.

"This wasn't his home. His real home was in Honduras," Mallett says.

That point is sadly reinforced by Oseguera's final trip home. After a service attended by scores of friends and co-workers, CiCi's franchise operator Steve Haskins arranged funding to fly the corpse to Honduras to be buried.

A lot of things had to go wrong for Juan Carlos Oseguera to die the way he did.

The hailstone that killed him began as a minuscule ice crystal buffeted within the violent drafts of the tornado that ravaged downtown Fort Worth. The crystal gained mass as it passed through layers of super-cool water droplets, collecting layers of ice as it was propelled up and down within the storm cloud. When the crystal finally reached the size of a softball, its mass became too great for the updrafts to sustain and it hurtled earthward. The wind guided the ball of ice at the precise angle necessary to rocket into Oseguera's left temple. He never regained consciousness. He died in a Fort Worth hospital 19 hours later.

Lucinda Mallett, Jennifer Mallett's mother, described Oseguera as a very orderly, meticulous person who was busy fixing up an apartment in the back of his house. She and her husband, Donald, share the sting when thinking about what fate has stripped from her daughter.

"Carlos wanted us to meet his family for dinner, but we never got to do that," she says. "We loved Carlos. We would have been proud to have him as a son-in-law. He was trying so hard to better his life."

The storm has subsided, and the cleanup of Fort Worth is well under way. The national media has refocused on another tragedy. Inside the Oseguera house, the family members have sealed "Carlito's" room. The truck sits in the driveway outside, a pack of Marlboros on the dashboard and an up-to-date Texas inspection sticker on the windshield.

It's a decent-looking truck. There is not a dent on it.

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Joe Pappalardo is the former editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Joe Pappalardo