LOCAL L.A. Now

Freeway crash that killed six: 'There are bodies all over'

The 21-year-old woman who authorities say was drunk when she drove the wrong way on the 60 Freeway, killing six people, had been previously convicted of driving under the influence.

Olivia Carolee Culbreath was 17 when she was convicted of drunk driving in San Bernardino County, Department of Motor Vehicles officials said. State records also show she was cited for traffic violations at least two other times. The DMV said the restrictions on her license hadn’t been lifted until last week.

The revelations come as authorities try to piece together how the crash occurred.

Around 4:40 a.m. Sunday, witnesses saw Culbreath’s red Camaro zoom east down the westbound 60 Freeway around 100 miles an hour until it collided with a red Ford Explorer, which then smashed into a third car. Several people were ejected from the vehicles, and only Culbreath and Joel Cortez, the driver of the silver Ford Freestyle, survived the crash.

Culbreath is in the hospital, but when she is released, she will be arrested on suspicion of DUI causing great bodily injury and manslaughter, authorities said.

Cortez said in an interview Monday that the crash occurred during what was a typical Sunday morning for him. By his account, here's what happened:

The 57-year-old woke up before dawn, got ready to head to his job as a technician in the City of Industry and asked God to protect three things: his children, the road and his job.

He left home in Ontario, tuned in to one of his favorite Spanish radio stations and headed west on the 60 along the route that usually takes 20 minutes or so. He settled into a lane and trailed a Ford Explorer for about 10 minutes. Then, in a whoosh, he saw red vehicle fly through the air. He tried to swerve.

Something jammed into the passenger side of his car, and he felt his airbag push into him. Then his car slammed into the center wall that divides the freeway. He looked outside and saw something in the road. In the morning darkness it looked like a big bag.

Then he heard a scream: “There are bodies all over.”

He peeked outside. There was twisted metal, wheels, blood. He stayed in the car and called his children. Soon the paramedics showed up and flashed a light in his face. After seeing that he was alive and seemed OK, a paramedic asked him to wait a bit -- others were worse off.

The four people in the Explorer, who all died, have been identified as relatives Gregorio Mejia-Martinez, 47; Leticia Ibarra, 42; Jessica Jasmine Mejia, 20; and Ester Delgado, whose age wasn’t immediately available.

Members of their family gathered at a single-story brown home in Huntington Park on Monday afternoon. Some huddled together near a porch; others stared at the ground, wiping away tears. A man who declined to give his name said he and other family members did not want to speak to the media.

The two passengers in Culbreath’s car -- a 24-year-old relative, Maya Culbreath, and Kristin Melissa Young, 21 -- both died.

A woman who answered the door at the Culbreath family home in Fontana choked up and said, “I'm just the grandmother, but I've more or less lost two babies.”

“I can't answer anymore. I'm sorry,” she said, her eyes downcast as she shut the front door.

To Cynthia Schroeder, who met Young at International Polytechnic High in Pomona, the loss of the friend who complimented her necklace on the first day of school and introduced her to the Smiths’ music -- some of her favorite -- felt surreal.

“It’s right out of a movie,” she said. “I prefer to only speak about positive things -- that’s the way Kristin would want it.”

As Cortez reflected on the crash from his living room Monday morning, his neck, chest and knees ached, and he was nursing a headache with painkillers. But really, he said, he was thinking about his prayer. About what he requests from God every day before he drives to work and again before he drives home each evening.

“He listened to me,” Cortez said.

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

joseph.serna@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

Times staff writers Matt Stevens and Marisa Gerber contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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