According to reports from the California Highway Police, the three priests were on board a Toyota Prius when, at around 2:20 pm local time, they pulled in front of an oncoming tractor-trailer on Highway 20 while making a turn from Highway 16 and were broadsided. Bishop Jala and Father Vellankal died instantly.
Mgr. Jala was born on 12 July 1951 in Mawlai-Shillong. He did his novitiate in Shillong between 1963 and 1964 and was ordained a priest on 19 November 1977. His motto was: "Growing in the unity of the Holy Spirit".
In his service to the Congregation he was Director of the “St. Antony" of Shillong (1989-92), Director of the Provincial House of Guwahati (1992-93) and of the "Don Bosco" Institute of Shillong (1993-96). For the "Mary Help of Christians" Province of Guwahati, he was Vicar (1990-93), Councilor (199-96) and Provincial (1996-2000).
Just 48 years old, on 22 December 1999, he received the nomination as archbishop of Shillong and was ordained on 4 April 2000 by Msgr. Thomas Menamparampil, SDB, archbishop of Guwahati at the time. From 2016, he was also Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Nongstoin, also in the State of Meghalaya.
As prelate, he was President of the Commission for the Liturgy of the Conference of Indian Bishops from 2003 to 2007 and again from 2015 onwards. He was a member of the International Commission for the Liturgy in English Language (ICEL). He was a Salesian for 50 years, a priest for 42 and an archbishop for 19.
Fr Vellankal was born in Ayavana, State of Kerala, India, on May 14, 1958. He did his novitiate in Shillong in 1977-78 and made perpetual vows as a Salesian in 1984. After being ordained a priest, 5 January 1987, in Randar, India, he worked in several Indian Salesian parishes and schools before being incardinated in the Diocese of Oakland in 2001. In the diocese he was also known for his skills as a magician, which he used to raise funds for charity initiatives.
Commenting the death of Msgr. Jala on Twitter, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said he was "anguished", and noted that the Salesian archbishop "will be remembered for his impeccable service to society and passion towards Meghalaya’s progress."