Boxing champ, 14, dies from injuries suffered in van crash on I-5

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - A teenage boxer who won state and regional titles and hoped to compete in a national championship later this month has died.

Carlos Daniel Perez was 14.

The boxer died Friday, January 24, from injuries sustained when his boxing gym's van collided with a tanker truck on Interstate 5 on Saturday, January 18.

Perez had been in critical condition in the ICU at a Portland hospital since the crash.

"I loved Carlos like he was my own son. I was very very proud of him," Heron Mendez said Friday.

Mendez coached the young boxer and was driving when the van collided with the tanker truck.

"He was one of the most humble kids I've ever come across," he said. "Very hard worker. Everything he did, he put out to the max. He was just one of the greatest kids and fighter I have ever come across.

"I pray that God takes care of him, because I know that he'll be sitting next to God."

"My focus is on nationals but after that, hopefully I get to go to the Olympics and win that. And then, maybe one day I'll be a world champion," Perez said in an interview just days before the crash.

Perez spends hours practicing his skills at Mendez Boxing Club, which is housed in space donated by a Springfield family.

His coaches, Jake Williams and Heron Mendez, have almost a half century of combined experience. Their motivation is helping youth like Carlos.

"I do it to help kids reach their goals, to keep them out of trouble. Boxing can be a way of life that affects the rest of your life in a positive way," Williams said.

Perez had won state and regional boxing titles and hoped to compete in a national championship later this month.

Crash remains under investigation

State police said the crash remains under investigation.

Perez was a passenger in a Dodge Caravan driven by Heron Mendez of Mendez Boxing Gym.

Police said the van was on an on-ramp to Interstate 5 northbound in the Donald/Aurora area when the van hit the rear of a tanker trailer being pulled by a commercial truck that was also on the ramp to I-5.

Conditions were foggy, police said, but the main cause of the crash is pending further investigation.

Mendez and passengers Jacob L. Williams, 36, and Louis Zenon-Meza, 28, were all taken by ambulance to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland with non-life threatening injuries, police said.

Perez and his father, 41-year-old Carlos Perez-Trujillo, and sister, 12-year-old Sarah Perez, were all taken to Oregon Health & Science University with serious injures. Police said the father has been treated and released. The most recent report on Sarah Perez indicated she was still in the hospital but that her condition was improving.