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Suspect in Fatal Drag Race Charged With Manslaughter

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 21-year-old Sylmar man was charged Friday with manslaughter following a freeway drag race blamed for the deaths of three former members of the Sylmar High School marching band.

Kenneth Acosta faces three counts of vehicular manslaughter in the crash deaths Tuesday of his friends Michael Encinas, 18, Pablo Rangle Jr., 18, and Shannon Haupt, 20, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The charges carry a maximum prison term of 15 years.

Initially, the California Highway Patrol sought second-degree murder charges against Acosta--who was absent from court Friday for apparently unrelated medical reasons--in connection with the accident. Acosta, an electrical engineering student at a Van Nuys technical school, was also being held on $1-million bail.

But authorities decided Friday on a lesser charge of manslaughter, and reduced Acosta’s bail to $75,000.

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“This doesn’t rise to a level of murder,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dale E. Cutler. “There was no evidence of direct or implied malice.”

However, he added, Acosta “showed gross negligence” by “engaging in a high-speed contest.”

According to CHP investigators, the accident victims died after a blue Nissan Maxima driven by Rangle hit speeds of 100 mph during a drag race with Acosta’s vehicle on the 118 Freeway. Unable to stop as they approached slowing traffic, Rangle swerved, careening 400 feet off the Foothill Freeway interchange and plummeting to a drainage ditch, the CHP said.

That account was disputed by the jailed man’s father. “The investigators say they were racing side by side. That never happened,” said Daniel Acosta. “There was no contest. They were speeding, but by the time they reached the overpass at the junction, they had brought the cars down to the speed limit.”

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Neighbors and friends, including the victims’ families, have expressed support for Kenneth Acosta, who is a hemophiliac and diabetic, his father said. “None of the families that lost their children are blaming Kenneth, and they have signed petitions favoring his release,” he added.

“This was a tragic accident, but he wasn’t guilty of any crime.”

The district attorney’s office expects Acosta to be arraigned Monday. And Daniel Acosta vowed to return to court armed with petitions and backers.

“My son is devastated,” he said. “He keeps crying.”


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