It was about 7 p.m. Tuesday when Irene Souter drove away from her tree-shaded home on Barrett Lane in the foothills of east Orange County for the last time.
The trip to Foothill High School was a short hop, barely a mile down Marcy Lane to Newport Avenue. In the car was her 16-year-old son, Stephen, a student at Foothill who was headed for a 4-H class that evening.
The drive ended tragically just south of St. John Place, according to the California Highway Patrol. A few minutes after 7, Irene Souter’s Toyota Tercel was rear-ended by another vehicle, which then sped away while she lost control and crashed head-on into a tree.
Mrs. Souter was briefly trapped inside the car. It took about a minute for Orange County firefighters to free her and another 20 minutes to reach Stephen, who was trapped underneath the dashboard, department spokeswoman Patti Range said.
Mrs. Souter died at about midnight at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. The county coroner’s office listed the cause of death as “traumatic internal injuries.”
No witnesses to the crash have been found. The only information was provided by Mrs. Souter before she died--that the car, which she couldn’t identify, may have been occupied by three males and would have damage to the right front area.
Stephen has been unable to provide them with any information, CHP Officer Mike Lundquist said.
Mrs. Souter’s other son, Matt, an 18-year-old freshman at Cal State Long Beach, said of his mother: “She was well-liked by a lot of people. She was always thinking about other people instead of herself.”
Neighbor Robert Watson, a retired Air Force colonel, called Mrs. Souter ‘warm and friendly. A very nice person. In fact, we were very close.”
Watson’s wife, Irene, said that Mrs. Souter had organized the neighbors for Christmas caroling and made efforts to make “everyone feel welcome.” She had even organized neighborhood potluck dinners, Mrs. Watson recalled.
Lundquist said that investigators are hoping somebody witnessed the accident and can provide details that may lead to an arrest.
Anyone with information is urged to call (714) 547-8311 and ask for Officer Pat Lord.
Stephen Souter was listed in stable condition at Western Medical Center on Wednesday after undergoing surgery. Paramedics said his right leg was broken in two places and he complained of abdominal pain at the scene.
Matt Souter said Wednesday that taking his brother to 4-H class at Foothill was typical of his mother’s activities. “I remember her helping me out every night with my homework,” he added.
Mrs. Souter, a Long Beach native who stayed active in a weekly church group that met in her hometown, was a housewife whose pastimes included gardening, quilting and spinning wool. The Watsons said she had planned to design the landscaping in front of their home.
The family of four moved to the rolling hills between Orange and Tustin about 12 years ago. Matt’s father, Edward, a Cal State Long Beach physical education professor, was still at the hospital Wednesday afternoon. Matt had been there during the morning but his brother was still in surgery.
Investigators said they were working without any clues. “We have practically no information,” Lundquist said.