While the apparently unlicensed 16-year-old boy who crashed a car in Irvine, killing five teens, continued to be treated for major injuries, investigators said Monday it is too early in the investigation to know if any criminal charges will be warranted.
“The most important thing is to gather the facts of what occurred that night, and whatever happens later on is yet to be determined,” California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief John Antillon said. “But we’re very early in the investigation, and I think it’s only fair that we conduct a fair, thorough investigation and let the facts bear out at the end.”
Antillon and CHP Capt. Joe Lundy urged anyone who witnessed or has information about the crash to come forward, and warned that the investigation could take up to a month to complete.
Antillon confirmed that the driver of the car, who was found outside the flaming wreckage when fire crews arrived on the scene, did not have a driver’s license or even a learning permit.
“At this point it appears he had not even started the process of obtaining a driver’s license,” Antillon said.
He said there was also no indication that drugs or alcohol contributed to the crash. CHP officials said earlier that speed likely was a factor.
The registered owner of the car is a relative of the 16-year-old driver, according to CHP Officer Florentino Olivera. Investigators plan to speak with the driver again today or tomorrow, Olivera said.
“We still don’t know how he got the keys to the car,” Olivera said.
The crash occurred on the southbound side of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway south of the Route 133 toll road about 2:12 a.m. Saturday when the white 1995 BMW flew off the freeway and caught fire, according to the CHP.
The front end of the BMW apparently drifted off the roadway and struck a metal guardrail, according to the CHP.
“Due to the speed, the vehicle continued in a southerly direction up an overcrossing embankment and came to rest on the top of a concrete retaining wall,” according to the CHP. The car and its five passengers were engulfed in fire.
The driver, believed to be Bradley Morales, reportedly told rescuers the group had been returning from a late-night trip to Knott’s Berry Farm.
The boy underwent brain surgery and was hospitalized in serious but stable condition, according to CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital.
“Following neurosurgery, (Morales) was placed in the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. He is recovering from a large skull fracture and an epidural hematoma,” according to a statement from CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital.
The family asked that no further information be released, according to the hospital.
Friends and family identified the deceased boys as Alex Sotelo and Matthew Melo, both ninth-graders at Capistrano Valley High School, and Brandon Moreno, an eighth-grader at Carl Hankey Middle School. The girls were identified by friends as Jenny Campos and Jennifer Bahena, who were both on the water polo team at Laguna Hills High School. Both Capistrano Valley High School and Hankey Middle School are in Mission Viejo.
Two of the boys, one from Mission Viejo and one from San Juan Capistrano, were 14 and the other was a 15-year-old from Mission Viejo, according to the CHP. No ages were given for the girls.
A candlelight vigil was held Sunday night at Capistrano Valley High School.
“Never thought or crossed my mind that this would ever happen, you know, it should’ve never happened,” said Ivan Melo, father of one victim, who wore his son’s soccer cleats around his neck and a medal from a tournament.
Gavin Aitkin played soccer with Melo for three years, according to ABC7.
“I looked up to him,” Aitkin said. “He was what I wanted to be. He was so confident, he had this air of confidence that you couldn’t break, no matter what you did.”
A vigil was held Saturday night at Laguna Hills High School for the girls.
Grief counselors were on hand at Capistrano Unified School District campuses today to help students come to grips with the tragedy.
“This is an emotional day for everyone and we expect that this will continue for several days or weeks,” Assistant Superintendent Julie Hatchel said.
California law prohibits drivers younger than 18, even if licensed, from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. or carrying passengers younger than 20 for the first 12 months they are licensed unless the driver is accompanied by a parent or guardian or other person specified by law.
Antillon urged young drivers and parents to take advantage of various CHP programs that offer information about the regulations governing new drivers.
He said it was still unclear how the 16-year-old boy wound up behind the wheel of the car.
Two of the girls and one of the boys who died were not wearing safety restraints, according to the CHP. It was unclear whether the driver used a seat belt. Antillon said there was apparently one passenger in the front seat of the car, and the other four were in the rear seat.
—City News Service
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