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4 Die in O.C. as Cars in 2 Races Crash

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

High-speed street racing over the weekend killed four young men, authorities said Sunday, one after a competition on the Riverside Freeway and three others after a chase through the streets of Santa Ana ended in a collision.

The dead ranged in age from 17 to 29.

In the first incident, three people were killed late Saturday night when they decided to race some friends in a second car to a party, and the vehicles took off south on Grand Avenue, Santa Ana police said.

One of the cars--police are not sure which--hit a third car that wasn’t involved in the race and sent it spinning out of control. The driver of that car, who was not identified, escaped injury.

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But the two rival cars, a gold Dodge and a black Buick, continued along Grand Avenue, and eventually both drivers lost control and struck a power pole in the 1000 block, police said.

The Dodge ripped apart on impact, killing three of its occupants and seriously injuring a fourth.

Police identified two of the dead as Alberto Valdez, 29, and Abraham Perez, 26. No addresses were provided, and the identity of the third man who died was not released. Jose Rocha Perez, 24, was reported in serious condition.

According to police, the three occupants of the second car fled but later turned themselves in to authorities.

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Valentine Cruz Rodriguez, 24, whose address is unknown, was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run driving. According to police, the survivors said they had been drinking before the accident.

Police said the cars were traveling at a “high rate of speed.”

Although there are no statistics on the numbers of people killed and injured in racing incidents, CHP officials said Sunday that they have investigated several deadly cases in recent months.

CHP Officer Angel Johnson said dispatchers receive calls virtually every day about motorists turning stretches of the county’s busy freeways into speedways.

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“It’s like a game of tag,” Johnson said. “We see so many situations where one vehicle passes another. The driver of the second vehicle feels challenged and responds by racing the other” vehicle.

“We have other situations where friends get in separate cars and race each other to see who has the fastest car,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing that people risk their lives this way, but it’s true.”

The second fatal race happened early Sunday. CHP officers said the contest between a black Chevy Camaro and a white Ford Mustang ended in a 1:40 a.m. crash that killed Vahey Shahinian, 17, of Downey.

Witnesses said the two cars weaved in and out of traffic eastbound on the Riverside Freeway at speeds nearing 100 m.p.h.

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As the cars approached the freeway’s intersection with Imperial Highway in Anaheim, the Mustang suddenly cut in front of the Camaro and slammed on the brakes, CHP officials said. Shahinian swerved the Camaro to the right to avoid hitting the Mustang and lost control of the car.

The Camaro ricocheted off a guard rail and a light post, then plunged down a 30-foot embankment, the CHP said.

Shahinian was killed instantly and his passenger, Christopher Sarkissian, 15, of Anaheim Hills, was treated for minor cuts and bruises. Both were wearing seat belts. It wasn’t known Sunday whether participants in the first crash were buckled in.

Sarkissian said later Sunday that he was horrified when he saw the Mustang swerve in front of his friend’s vehicle before coming to a stop.

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“We had a choice of flying into him or trying to make the Imperial Highway exit,” Sarkissian said. “My friend (Shahinian) tried to go for the exit but we flew off the side and flipped over. I was hoping that none of us were going to die.

“After the accident, my friend was stuck between the driver’s and passenger’s seat and his body was all the way to the back of the car,” Sarkissian said. “I checked for his pulse. He was already dead.”

Sarkissian, a sophomore at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills, said he and Shahinian were returning to Sarkissian’s home when they were challenged to race by the driver of the white Mustang.

He said Shahinian sped up to about 85 m.p.h. to elude the Mustang, which later zoomed past at about 100 m.p.h. before its driver hit the brakes.

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Sarkissian described Shahinian as a junior at Montebello High School and an A-student who was making plans to study engineering at Claremont College.

“If you had a problem he would do anything in his power to help you,” Sarkissian said. “He takes your problems on his own shoulders. He was so attached to his friends. We were like brothers, best friends.”

CHP officials are looking for the driver of the Mustang, who they said fled. CHP Officer Johnson, a traffic investigator, said it appeared that the drivers of the cars did not know each other.

The CHP is asking that anyone with information about the white Mustang involved in the Sunday crash contact Officer Ron Brame at (714) 547-8311.

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