Los Angeles Times

Teen crash victim is remembered

Even on his days off, Luis Adrian Torres was known to visit his co-workers at Chipotle Mexican Grill in Costa Mesa and lend a hand.

The grill needed to be cleaned at closing time after a busy day, and Torres did that and everything else enthusiastically at the Harbor Boulevard restaurant.

Friends and family of the 19-year-old Costa Mesa resident, who died after a weekend car crash, described an energetic young man whose life was on the upswing after a challenging time.

[An earlier version of the story said the crash happened at 12:36 p.m.]

"He had reached that point at his life where everything was going good after he had struggled so much," said one of his sisters, Bernice Torres, 21.

On Monday morning, Bernice and others watched over a small memorial at the site where, Costa Mesa police say, Torres, driving a 1990 Jaguar XJ-6, veered off the road and hit a tree about 12:36 a.m. Sunday. Darren Wood, traffic investigator for the Costa Mesa Police Department, said a high rate of speed may have contributed to the fatal single-car crash on Susan Street near Sunflower Avenue.

A female passenger is recovering from fractures at an area hospital. Police have not identified her, but Torres' family said they believed she was a close friend, not a girlfriend.

"She'll survive," Wood said.

After the crash, which is under investigation, Torres was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where he died a few hours later, according to the Orange County coroner's office.

It is unknown if alcohol was involved, but Wood said a standard toxicology test would be performed. Witnesses are asked to contact Wood at (714) 754-5264.

At the memorial site along Susan Street, well-wishers left notes or wrote on the tree into which the Jaguar had crashed. Flowers, pictures and other mementos — including Torres' copy of the Bible, his Chipotle crew T-shirt and one from Jersey Mike's Subs, where he had also worked — were displayed. Friends and family had also brought copies of a Billy Graham pamphlet, "Steps to peace with God."


'We needed boys'

Torres — known by many by his middle name, Adrian — graduated from Estancia High School in 2011. He spent his senior year at the Costa Mesa campus, though before that, he had attended Irvine High School. He also spent some of his intermediate years at TeWinkle Middle School.

But while some called him Adrian, at Estancia, Torres was was known by another name: Bernard. This way, his family said, all the Torres siblings attending Estancia would have "B" names: Bernard, Bernice, who also graduated in 2011, and Bernadette, 18, who graduates this week.

Bernadette, who is pregnant, plans to name her son after one of her big brother's nicknames.

At Estancia, Torres got involved with the cheerleading squad — at his older sister's insistence.

"He was so masculine, but he did it because he cared about us and he wanted to help," Bernice said. "We needed boys and he did it."

Jermaine Sanders was also on the team. Through all the stunt training, practices and games, he remembered Torres as being "always the loudest one."

"Even in something that we forced him to do that he probably didn't like the best, he found the best of it ... he did his own thing and had fun," Sanders said.

"He really made an impact on so many people's lives," Sanders added. "Different types of people, cheerleaders to cholos to rappers."

Bernice recalled her little brother's attempts at rap, which got significantly better with practice.

His stage name? "Rapture," from the Bible.

His audience? Anyone who would listen, family members said, laughing.

"We were all so close, and he just made it that much better when he got to Estancia," Bernice said. "Everyone in our class can honestly say that our class was the best class because he was the funniest person there. He always made everyone laugh."


Questions remain

After high school, Torres eventually left his mother's Costa Mesa home and moved from place to place.

"He didn't want to be a burden to her," Bernice said. "She was financially struggling, so he went away .... He said that the only place he felt sheltered was when he went to church. And they gave him hope."

Andrew Garcia, a longtime friend of the family who described Torres as being like a brother, said Torres lived with him and attended church with him for several months.

He would shift from house to house, Garcia said. "Even though we didn't mind his company, he didn't want to be a burden," he said.

"Yesterday was horrible," Garcia added. "Still, with how horrible it was, I found myself laughing more than crying. I cried a lot, but more laughs than anything, just thinking of our memories and how much he impacted all our lives."

Bernice said her brother had run into his fair share of trouble, though everybody liked him nonetheless.

"He was literally at the bottom," she said. "He hit rock bottom. But working his way up, and with all the struggles and obstacles that he faced, he still was happy and energetic about life."

His enthusiasm and skills at his job were being noticed too. He was recently promoted and was being eyed to help run another Chipotle branch.

He was also proud of his Jaguar, which he had bought from his mother about a week ago. He had plans to spruce it up and get it registered in his name. A momentous gas-pumping session was captured with pictures and video.

"He was so happy when we went to pump gas for the first time … he couldn't stop smiling," Bernice said. "He knew he was getting the promotion at work. Everything was going fine. He was happy. He was genuinely happy."

Questions about Sunday's incident remain.

"I don't even know what he was doing over here," Bernice said. "And that's what I want to find out from the [other passenger]. Why was he over here? Why wasn't he over there at that side of Costa Mesa, where he lives and where his work is, and where his family is?"

On Monday, gatherers at the memorial pointed to the skid marks and the wreckage that still hadn't been cleaned up. On Sunday, they took to removing some of the pieces themselves by hand.

"They just left all that there," Bernice said. "We know he's gone already. Do you have to leave all that there? You took the car, but can you take the rest?"

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