Car Lands in Sandbox; 6 Toddlers Hurt : Accident: Driver helps victims at Garden Grove center, is later arrested.


Six toddlers playing in a sandbox at a day-care center were injured Monday, some seriously, when a car careened through a block wall, struck two children and landed on top of the other four.

Teachers, bystanders and the car’s driver lifted the front end of the Datsun B-210 to free the children. Witnesses said the 43-year-old driver, who was later arrested, also helped pull some of the injured tots from beneath the car, then ran to call 911 to summon help to the Early Childhood Schools Children’s Village.

“He just flew into the playground and hit the kids,” said Sheila Mullins, a teacher at the day-care center in the 10500 block of Westminster Avenue, a residential stretch of the heavily traveled thoroughfare. “There was a lot of blood, and I saw the kids underneath there. . . . My first thought was ‘Oh my God, the kids!’ ”


“Everyone was screaming and yelling,” said teacher Theresa Aguilar. “If (the driver) hadn’t helped lift the car up, I don’t know what would have happened to the kids.”

But police later arrested the dazed driver, identified as Darrell Emerson Nelson of Garden Grove, on suspicion of felony drunk driving after officers said they noticed the odor of alcohol on Nelson and after he failed balance and coordination tests at the day-care center.

A blood test taken at the police station showed that the convenience store worker had a blood alcohol level of 0.04, or half the legal threshold for drunkenness. However, Garden Grove police investigator Mike Clabaugh said Nelson would remain in custody at Orange County Jail pending further tests for other controlled substances.

Nelson has a clean driver’s record, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Two of the youngsters were airlifted to a Santa Ana trauma hospital. It was initially feared that both had suffered critical head injuries. But once they were evaluated by emergency room physicians, their condition was downgraded to serious, according to Clabaugh.

The six children, all 2 years old, were identified as Stephen Beaty of Lake Forest, Amanda Beauleau of Fullerton and Daniel Bixler, Jeremy Brommer, Rachel Stoopes and Madison Malmberg, all of Garden Grove. Rachel and Madison were believed to have been sideswiped by the left front of the Datsun. The other four were pinned underneath the car.

By late Monday afternoon, all of the children were listed in serious to stable condition at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, UCI Medical Center in Orange and a clinic in Garden Grove.

Three children at UCIMC were treated in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Dr. Carl Schultz, assistant director of emergency, declined to identify which children the hospital was treating or their individual conditions or to say whether any of them would require surgery.

“The parents are with them,” Schultz said. “(The children) are able to recognize that their parents are there.”

He said the three could remain in the hospital for a week, but he added, “If nothing else comes up, and things proceed according to plan, they should be fine.”

At Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, Amanda Beauleau was listed in guarded condition and Rachel Stoopes was in stable condition, according to hospital spokeswoman Joyce Lowder.

Cheryl Stoopes, Rachel’s mother, arrived at the school minutes after her daughter had been airlifted to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. The distraught mother said she approached the shaken driver and shouted, “See what you did! Thanks a lot!”

Stoopes said her daughter suffered a bump on the head and a cut lip, but that doctors found no evidence of brain damage.

Stoopes said she doesn’t blame the school for the accident, but she wondered whether she would send Rachel or her sibling back to the center out of concern that such an accident could occur again.

Of the driver, Stoopes said, “To be able to go through a block wall . . . he must have been going fast.”

Police said the accident occurred about 10:50 a.m., as Nelson was on his way to pick up a job application at the day-care center for his wife. Nelson told investigators he was in the eastbound lanes of Westminster Avenue, trying to make a left turn into the school parking lot, when he swerved and sped up to avoid hitting an oncoming van.

Clabaugh said Nelson was traveling an estimated 30 to 40 m.p.h. when he missed the entrance to the school lot by nearly 20 feet. The car bumped into a low curb, vaulted into a planter, glanced off a palm tree and crashed through a wall made of cinder block and wrought iron, sending blocks flying 15 to 20 feet, according to witness and police accounts. The wall separates the street and sidewalk from a sandbox, slide and play area at the front of the school where about 14 toddlers were playing Monday morning.

The car plunged through the block barrier and landed in the sandbox on four children who were playing in the middle of the box. Two other toddlers in the sandbox were sideswiped by the car as it slid forward into a chain-link fence at the edge of the play yard, witnesses said. Police said the sand was damp, which slowed the forward motion of the car.

While some teachers and bystanders rushed to help the children, others herded the rest of the youngsters from the play area, which was peppered with chunks of colored plastic from play equipment thrown by the impact of the crash.

Aguilar said that just as she saw the accident occur, she raced onto the playground. She could see the children trapped under the car but could not get to them.

Once the car was lifted, Aguilar said she pulled Daniel and Stephen away from the vehicle. Daniel was bloody, but crying--which she regarded as a good sign. But Aguilar said Stephen wasn’t moving, and his jaw appeared locked shut and his nostrils were filled with sand.

After removing the sand, Aguilar tried unsuccessfully to give the boy cardiopulmonary resuscitation. When that failed, the panicked teacher began yelling, “ ‘Cry for me! Cry for me!’ ”

“Then, I just held him,” she said.

Eventually, Stephen responded to Aguilar, but wouldn’t talk to firefighters. Aguilar said she asked him where he was injured, “but he couldn’t tell me where he hurt. He probably hurt all over.”

Mullins, another of the teachers, said one of the children pinned under the car appeared “almost like he was folded in half.”

Evelina Stotler, a teacher who saw the car coming toward the playground, scooped several children from out of the vehicle’s path. But she said there wasn’t time to gather them all before the car landed.

“It happened in a split second. I just tried to scoop up as many kids as I could,” Stotler said. “The car just landed on them.”

Nelson’s boss, Sam Pattapong, said Nelson is married, served in the Marine Corps and is a reliable employee who has worked at his 7-Eleven stores in Tustin and Garden Grove for nine months. He said Nelson works the night shift and had gotten off work at 7 a.m. Monday morning.

“He’s been a good employee,” Pattapong said. “He goes home and feeds his dog. . . . He normally sleeps in the afternoon. . . . That’s his habit. He’s a good man, an ex-Marine who served 12 years.”

Pattapong questioned reports that Nelson may have been drunk.

“Strange, the man doesn’t drink,” Pattapong said. “I’ve never known him to drink in the nine months he has been here.”

Garden Grove Police Investigator Clabaugh said he was still trying to corroborate Nelson’s account that a white and brown van, possibly a Ford, caused him to swerve into the day-care center. He asked anyone who may have been near Westminster Avenue and Taft Street shortly before 11 a.m. Monday to telephone police at (714) 741-5823.

Times staff writers Len Hall, Phuong Le, Otto Strong, Mark I. Pinsky and Davan Maharaj contributed to this article.

Six Injured at Day-Care Center

1) Datsun careens across two lanes of oncoming traffic

2) Crashes through low shrubs, cinderblock wall

3) Flies 6 feet into playground

Six toddlers injured

Driver arrested at scene

Researched by CAROLINE LEMKE / Los Angeles Times