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    With lighted Marry Me letters on the beach, a proposal is made at Crystal Cove
    • July 10, 2024

    Against a dazzling and intentionally timed Crystal Cove sunset, two words lit up like a movie theater marquee. Standing 4 feet tall and surrounded by 120 red roses on a red carpet, seven metal letters spelled: MARRY ME.

    Albert Pina wanted things perfect for his Fourth of July beach proposal. It had been five years since he first laid eyes on Claritza Erives, 29, and the couple have “vibed ever since,” he said.

    “The first time I saw her, she looked gorgeous,” he said. “And I still find myself staring at her.”

    Albert Pina of Tucson, Az, gets down on one knee as he proposes on the beach in Crystal Cove to Claritza Erives on
    Thursday, July 4, 2024. She said yes as 30 family members and passersby applauded. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Albert Pina of Tucson, Az, gets down on one knee as he proposes on the beach in Crystal Cove to Claritza Erives on
    Thursday, July 4, 2024. She said yes as 30 family members and passersby applauded. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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    Pina, 39, a sheriff’s deputy in Tucson, Arizona, enlisted the help of his younger sister, Vanessa Pina, to pull it off.

    “It turned out to be more complicated than I thought,” said Vanessa, also of Tucson.

    After Pina shared his proposal idea, his sister got busy ordering letters online.

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    When they arrived from Amazon they were not 4 feet tall like Albert requested. They were a squat 4 inches.

    “I was thinking maybe I could stand them on something to make it work,” Vanessa Pina said, “but that’s not what my brother wanted.”

    She was literally at a loss for words and running out of time.

    “How am I going to pull this off in just two days on a holiday weekend?” she fretted. “I can laugh about it now, but it was very stressful.”

    In the meantime, 30 family members, some driving from as far away as Naco, Mexico, were arriving in Orange County to surprise Erives, who thought she was going on a small family vacation.

    Running out of time, Vanessa Pina called local retailers, who quoted rental prices as high as several thousand dollars without the required generator to power the lights inside the letters.

    Vanessa Pina finally found a reasonably priced vendor from L.A.

    But that’s not where the happily ever after begins.

    The letters ended up at the wrong beach, as the 7 p.m. deadline loomed.

    “I just want to be honest,” Vanessa Pina recalls the vendor saying, “I don’t think we are going to make it.”

    But the vendor hustled to the Crystal Cove parking lot, and family members met her at the shuttle that takes visitors to the beach. Everyone grabbed a letter and scrambled onto the bus. They hurried down the sand, to the amusement of other beachgoers.

    Finally, the letters were in place and it looked like smooth sailing from there. But it wasn’t.

    The generator failed and the letters lost their magical golden glow.

    “I had to come up with a Plan B,” Vanessa Pina said. She was going to offer money to a guest at the adjacent Crystal Cove Cottages for 10 minutes of electricity.

    But love was in the air and it was electric. A guest offered free power and delivered it down the wooden bungalow steps and onto the sand via a 20-foot extension cord that they just happened to have.

    Finally, Pina and Erives, a hospital auditor wearing a flowing white dress, strolled down the sand while the tide rushed in. As they passed the Beachcomber Cafe, Erives heard people whispering, “There she is! There she is!”

    As instructed by his sister, Pina stopped at “E” so he didn’t block the other letters for photo opps. He got down on his left knee – minutes earlier he had Googled: “Which knee should be on the ground when proposing?”

    As Pina took Erives’ hand in his, he felt her trembling.

    “I blacked out,” she said.

    “All I could see was Albert. And then it hit me when I saw everyone,” she said referring to her family.

    The country song “Die a Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett played over portable speakers while Pina proposed — “Oh, if all I got is your hand in my hand. Baby, I could die a happy man.”

    When Erives finally said “yes,” the beach erupted in applause.

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