Crash on Freeway Kills Woman, Hurts 2 Others : Sylmar: The victim's children were severely injured. The driver of a vehicle who allegedly was racing other cars is arrested.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One woman was killed and her two children seriously injured Sunday morning when their automobile was rear-ended by a car that was racing other cars on the freeway, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Concepcion Rodriguez, 29, of Cuyama in Santa Barbara County was thrown from the family's 1985 Ford Bronco at 12:35 a.m., CHP Sgt. Ben Ruth said. Authorities said that the other driver, Mark Botta, 18, of Cerritos was on the way to a popular illegal street race in Sylmar when the collision occurred.

Rodriguez's husband, Jose, 30, along with their 5-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son, were also thrown from the vehicle, which flipped over on the northbound Golden State Freeway near the San Fernando Road exit, Ruth said.

The survivors were taken to Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, where Jose Rodriguez was treated for minor injuries and released. The children suffered serious injuries and were being treated at an undisclosed location.

Botta, who witnesses said was driving his red Honda Civic at speeds above 85 m.p.h., was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence, Ruth said.

CHP investigators are using witness statements to track three other cars racing along the freeway with Botta. They were described as a red Acura Integra and two late-model compact cars.

Botta said he hit the Rodriguez vehicle after his car struck a bump in the road and he lost control, authorities said. CHP investigators said Botta, traveling in the far right lane, hit the right rear of the Rodriguez vehicle, which was traveling at 55 m.p.h.

The collision caused the Rodriguez vehicle to flip, ejecting all of the passengers. None of them were wearing seat belts, Ruth said.

Occupants of two cars that stopped at the crash scene to offer aid told investigators that they were going to see the Sylmar races, Ruth said.

For years, a stretch of San Fernando Road near the Foothill Freeway overpass has been a popular site for illegal street races, drawing crowds as large as 100 people. Two people have been shot and killed while attending the races, one the victim of a drive-by shooting. The other, who died in May, was shot after arguing with gang members, police said.

Botta, who was accompanied by an unidentified 17-year-old Lakewood girl, told police that he was on his way to a race in Sylmar.

Ruth said the event attracts teen-agers from "all over the Southland."

"They show each other their cars, strut back and forth in front of everyone and take on all comers," he added. "It's a straight stretch of road in a rural area. They line up all the cars on the side of the road and watch. When they think it's clear, people line up to race."

Police and Highway Patrol officers attempt to discourage the races, but the participants and spectators often spot officers and drive off before they can be apprehended, Ruth said.

"All we ever see is brake and tail lights," Ruth said. "We go down there, make ourselves visible, and they leave. And as soon as we leave, they come back."

Staff writer Ann O'Neill contributed to this story.

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