EL PASO, Texas -

Esmeralda Armendariz remembers driving home to El Paso from a trip to Phoenix on Dec. 28 and hearing a disturbing news story on the radio: A red Mitsubishi had smashed into a brick wall on Mesa Street near Executive, crashing through into an embankment and bursting into flames.

"It never crossed my mind that it was my brother (in that car)," Armendariz said through tears.

Armendariz's 20-year-old brother, Nefi Armendariz, was a passenger in that red Mitsubishi.

Police said 22-year-old Miguel Vargas was behind the wheel. The El Paso Police Department believes Vargas was drunk and speeding on Mesa Street when he lost control at the Executive Center Boulevard intersection just before 2:30 a.m. In the car were Stacy Reyes, 18; Nefi Armendariz, 20; Idaly Reyes, 19; and Kim Araujo, 23.

The vehicle began sliding sideways and crashed through a rock wall before becoming airborne. The car then traveled to the bottom of an embankment at 4171 N. Mesa St., struck a tree trunk and caught fire.

Kim Araujo and Idaly Reyes died. At last check, Stacy Reyes was recovering from serious injuries. Vargas survived and is in jail facing intoxicated manslaughter charges.

Esmeralda Armendariz said Nefi was taken to University Medical Center for treatment immediately after the wreck, then transported to the Lubbock burn center a few days later, where he remains in critical condition.

"This is all a nightmare," said Esmeralda Armendariz. "I see (Nefi) laying in the hospital bed, not being able to hear his voice or see his smile."

Armendariz said her little brother is a charismatic, good kid who is always ready with a joke and a smile. She said it's been difficult seeing him in his delicate condition. Nefi Armendariz is suffering from deep burns that cover his legs, feet, hands and part of his face. He is also healing from a number of broken bones and sustained some brain trauma.

"He also got pneumonia," said Esmeralda Armendariz. "Today, they removed part of it through surgery instead of having to remove his lung, which is really good."

Nefi Armendariz has been sedated most of the time and unable to speak, but was able to open his eyes recently to see his family by his side.

"We tell him, 'If you can hear us, close your eyes,' and he closes them, so he's in there. He's in there," said Esmeralda Armendariz.

Nefi Armendariz's parents have moved to Lubbock to be by their son's side. A partly finished puzzle Esmeralda had started with Nefi and her fiancee sits on Esmeralda Armendariz's kitchen table, waiting for the day her little brother is well enough to keep working on it with her.

"We're going to wait to finish it until he gets home," said Esmeralda Armendariz.

Esmeralda Armendariz said doctors think it will take about a year for Nefi to recover from his most serious injuries. Anyone who wants to help the family cover medical expenses can make a donation at any Wells Fargo bank in an account set up for Nefi Armendariz.

Bank: Wells Fargo Name: Maria L. Armendariz (Nefi's mother) Account Number: 1304892324