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‘A beautiful soul was taken’: Father mourns Creech airman killed by suspected impaired driver

Updated May 7, 2024 - 9:54 am

Juan Villegas says his top priority right now is getting his daughter home.

Juan’s daughter, Natalie Villegas, died in a crash on Saturday after being struck by a suspected impaired driver on U.S. Highway 95 near Creech Air Force Base. She was 23.

Natalie started working at Creech in 2021. She was the only active military member in her family, Villegas said.

“She was the one that set the bar, as far as going into the military, and everyone, all the way down the line — older cousins and anybody in the family younger — looked up to her and were very, very proud of her,” he said.

Col. Nicholas Pederson, 432 Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander at Creech, said there are “no words” to describe the “senseless event” that took Natalie’s life.

“I am extremely saddened to learn that we have lost a valued member of our 432nd Wing family,” Pederson said in a statement. “The whole Hunter team extends our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of Senior Airman Villegas, and we are doing all we can to assist them during this devastating loss.”

Natalie grew up between Grand Prairie, Texas, and Dallas, her father said. Her role models were her grandmothers and great-grandmother, whom Villegas said helped raise her to be a strong young woman.

“My family has always been filled with very strong women, and she epitomized that, she absorbed all of that, ” Villegas said. “She became one of those very strong female roles. She adopted it very well.”

After graduating high school, Natalie and her father discussed the possibility of her having a future career in the military. She decided to join the U.S. Air Force, and went on to be a sensor operator working with remote-piloted aircraft, he said.

Despite living several states away, Villegas said Texas was always her home.

“She always enjoyed coming home to Dallas, she considered herself a Texan — always proud, proud Texan,” he said.

After his daughter’s funeral in Texas, the Air Force in Las Vegas will hold a memorial May 9 to honor her life and legacy, he said.

“Nothing is going to be left untouched to give her the proper, honorable send-off that she deserves,” he said.

The entire family, who Villegas said lives across Texas, is still in shock about what has happened.

“We were all very proud of her, always will be proud of her,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re going through this. … She didn’t deserve this.”

While he’s focused now on honoring Natalie’s life, Villegas said he hopes to get justice for his daughter.

The man arrested in connection with Natalie’s death has been charged with DUI and reckless driving, according to court records. He is expected back in court on June 27 for a preliminary hearing.

“People need to be aware that a beautiful soul was taken. Someone who gave their life for their country was taken from us horrifically.”

Contact Taylor Lane at tlane@reviewjournal.com.

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