Head-On Collision Near Laguna Kills Driver of Pickup

Times Staff Writer

A Newport Beach man was killed and a Laguna Niguel woman critically injured in a head-on collision Friday afternoon on Coast Highway just north of Laguna Beach.

Five passengers on an Orange County Transit District bus also received minor injuries when their driver swerved to avoid the accident, transit district spokeswoman Joanne Curran said.

Traffic on the highway was halted for several hours near the El Morro Beach Mobilehome Park while tow trucks and officers from the California Highway Patrol tried to clear the roadway.

Details on the accident were sketchy late Friday but, according to Curran, the collision occurred at about 4:30 p.m. when a southbound car suddenly swerved across the center lane and into a northbound pickup truck. The driver of the pickup--Edward R. Orem, 58, of Balboa Island--died at the scene, a deputy coroner said.

The car's driver, a 69-year-old Laguna Niguel woman, was taken by helicopter to the trauma unit at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, where she was reported in critical condition with internal injuries Friday night. Nursing supervisor Joanne Rosen said she could not release the woman's identity until her family had been notified.

CHP officers could not be reached Friday night but according to preliminary information from Curran, a transit district bus with seven passengers aboard was traveling north directly behind the pickup truck. Its driver, Paul Hopkins, 44, "took evasive action to get around the accident," Curran said.

Hopkins swerved his bus sharply to the right into the dirt alongside the road, then swerved left across two northbound lanes to avoid hitting a telephone pole, she said. The bus came to a stop in the center of the highway, Curran said.

The five passengers who received minor injuries were treated at South Coast Medical Center and immediately released. Curran said the rear axle of the bus received "extensive damage," probably when it sideswiped a dirt embankment alongside the highway.

She praised Hopkins, a driver with three years of experience, for "following exactly" the transit district's procedures on defensive driving.

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