A young couple expecting their first child were among four people killed Friday night in a horrific car crash on the 60 Freeway in Moreno Valley, according to family members and the Riverside County coroner.
Airyana Luna, 20, and Valentino Ramos, 21, of San Bernardino were identified by coroner’s officials as two of the fatalities in the crash, which authorities believe might have been tied to illegal street racing. A GoFundMe page set up by family members said the couple were expecting a son in October.
Two other fatalities were identified by Riverside County officials as Polo Najera Perez and Rafael Ramirez Espinoza, both 21-year-old men, also from San Bernardino.
They were riding on the freeway in a white BMW around 7:30 p.m. Friday when the car lost control and struck a center median, according to the California Highway Patrol. The vehicle landed on the opposite side of the freeway.
Preliminary statements from witnesses suggest the BMW may have been racing against a “dark-colored Honda” shortly before the crash, CHP Sgt. Gene Carrillo said.
Alcohol may have played a role, he said.
The force of the crash ejected Espinoza, the driver, and Najera Perez, who was riding in the right rear seat, CHP Sgt. David Robles said. Robles said that they were found on the center divider by emergency personnel and that it appeared that neither of the men were wearing seat belts.
Luna and Ramos were trapped in the backseat of the BMW, Robles said, and died at the scene. A fifth person, a 19-year-old woman, was rescued from the car after firefighters cut apart a section of the damaged vehicle. She was hospitalized with minor scrapes to her arms, Robles said.
“I don’t understand how she survived it,” Robles said of the young woman, who he said was riding in the front seat at the time of the crash. “It’s surprising she didn’t lose an arm or something.”
The GoFundMe page, apparently set up to raise money for burial costs for Luna and Ramos, said they were picked up by friends around 2 p.m. Friday and were headed to Morongo Casino.
“Unfortunately, two lives have been cut short and one life never got the opportunity to blossom due to this tragedy,” read the web page, which added that friends and family recently gathered for their baby shower. “They were both so young, but so in love and hopeful for their little family.”
No other vehicles were struck during the crash, and no one else was injured, Carrillo said.
This year, a Los Angeles Times analysis of coroner’s records, police reports and media accounts found that at least 179 people had died in suspected street races in Los Angeles County since 2000. There were 984 street-racing incidents in Los Angeles County last year — including spontaneous races and organized events, according to data tracked by the California Highway Patrol.
It’s not the first time the Inland Empire has seen the tragic consequences of the racing scene. Two young boys were killed this year when the vehicle they were riding in was struck by a driver involved in an impromptu street race in Perris.
Police say street-racing incidents in the area are on the rise, driven in part by racers’ ability to promote meet-ups, fuel regional rivalries and adapt to police responses through Instagram accounts. Spontaneous races on freeways and in other crowded areas where drivers might have to weave through motorists or pedestrians at high speeds sometimes prove the deadliest, police have said.