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3 O.C. Teens Killed in Crash on Desert Road

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three teen-agers were killed and five others injured early Saturday when their car careened out of control on a San Bernardino County desert road and rolled several times, police said.

The boys, all close friends and Katella High School students, were returning from an overnight camping trip and driving about 6:30 a.m. on a dirt road about 10 miles north of Victorville, said their parents and authorities.

The driver, a 17-year-old from Anaheim who suffered only minor injuries, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the California Highway Patrol. His name was not released because of his age.

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The driver told the CHP he was traveling about 45 m.p.h. with seven other boys aboard his 1987 Chevy Suburban when he lost control of the car.

The dead were identified as Jonothan Croweagle Fabbro Curtis, 16, of Garden Grove; Steven Richard Bender, 18, of Orange; and John Thornton, 18, of Anaheim. A fourth boy, Anthony Fuentes, 17, of Anaheim, was critically hurt and remained hospitalized.

The other injured passengers were identified as Drake Gustafson, Steven Cass and Joey Fraser, all 17 and all from Anaheim. All the boys were juniors last year at Katella High except Thornton, who was a senior.

Family members and friends of the dead youths described them as the “heart and soul and pride of the school.” Five of the boys were members of a tight-knit water polo team that was to travel to Hawaii for a tournament next month, while two--Fraser and Gustafson--are baseball players.

“I can’t say enough what a tragedy this is,” said Fred Curtis, the father of Jonothan, called “Jon-O” by his friends. “These were just good kids. They didn’t do drugs and got good grades. These are the kinds of children who were going to do great things for society and humanity in general.”

The boys left their homes about 8 p.m. Friday for the approximately 100-mile drive to the remote desert in Stoddard Valley near Bell Mountain, an area north of Victorville and east of Interstate 15, their parents said.

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Like they had many other times, they spent the night camping and sleeping in a trailer that one of their friends keeps in the area, said Cindy Bender, the mother of Steven.

“It’s a place they go to have fun,” said Bender. “We heard it was really too hot out there to sleep. But they always had a rule that one of them would not drink, and remain sober.”

William Thornton, 48, the father of John, said he trusted the boys to take care of themselves.

“I’m terribly upset,” said William Thornton, a postal supervisor. “You know the kids are going to drink beer, that’s part of what they go for. But they always have a designated driver. These kids are all very responsible.”

The parents said the boys were on their way home when the accident occurred.

The details of the crash were unclear, but the car rolled over many times and at least one of the boys, Bender, was thrown out of the vehicle and then crushed by it, the CHP said.

Said Cindy Bender: “The car rolled as many as 15 times. The doctor said he couldn’t believe any of them survived it.”

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Two of the youths, Fabbro Curtis, who was seat-belted on the passenger’s side, and Thornton, were dead at the scene, said Greg Randolph, a San Bernardino County deputy coroner investigator.

Bender died at St. Mary Desert Valley Hospital in Apple Valley almost two hours later, hospital officials said.

Some of Thornton’s and Bender’s vital tissues and organs were saved for transplants, their parents said.

Gustafson, Cass and Fraser remained hospitalized at Victor Valley Community Hospital and are expected to survive.

Many friends and family gathered Saturday afternoon and evening and talked of the boys. Most of them were very close and had known each other since junior high school, said Dave Shaddy, a fellow water polo player.

Four were members of the Katella Knights water polo team that took second place in the Empire League last year and “were going to win the league title next year,” Shaddy said.

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He said they had been practicing daily at 7 a.m. all summer in preparation for the Hawaii tournament.

“These are the type of friends who, if I lost my family, they would be my family,” said Shaddy, 17, of Yorba Linda, who was particularly close to the driver of the Suburban, Bender and Fabbro Curtis.

“Jon-O [Fabbro] was the best goalie in the county. Steve [Bender] was a great all-around guy. He was everyone’s friend,” Shaddy said. “These guys were my team.”

Bender was the junior class homecoming prince last year, member of the honor roll and had been a varsity water polo player since he was a freshman, Cindy Bender said.

A group of Native Americans conducted a memorial service Saturday at Knott’s Berry Farm for Fabbro, who was half Apache.

Other funeral and memorial services are pending.

A trust fund in the name of Jonothan Fabbro Curtis, c/o Poppy Laney, P.O. Box 2131, Costa Mesa 92628 has been set up to help pay the victims’ burial costs.

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