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Crash Kills Three Youths

Times Staff Writer

A 13-year-old girl driving her mother’s car on a joyride lost control and collided with another vehicle in Compton, killing three young passengers, authorities said Sunday.

In a city where residents are familiar with violence, the Saturday evening crash left the families of the dead children struggling to make sense of the accident. They asked why a 13-year-old who some neighbors said they had seen driving on other occasions was allegedly behind the wheel of a car.

“All of them made a bad choice. But this bad choice [cost] them their life,” said Donetta Johnson, 43, whose son, Derrius, 15, died in the crash.

Harry Neal’s lip trembled as he told stories about his nephew, Ricky Ward, 13, who also was killed.

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“I lost my baby,” Neal said. “I don’t know how a 13-year-old gets keys to a car.”

Clydnesha Lindsey, 12, was the third victim. All three were from Compton.

Sheriff’s officials said Sunday they would consider whether to file criminal charges against the driver or her mother, neither of whom was identified by authorities because the girl is a minor.

“We do have three people who were killed,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Ralph Miller. “There is the question you have to ask: Did the mom let her use the car? And I have no idea what the answer is. But how she got the car, [and] had she done this before [are key questions].”

The crash occurred shortly before 6:30 p.m. when the driver -- wearing pajamas from a slumber party -- crossed a centerline on Alondra Boulevard and her white four-door Mazda was broadsided by an SUV, sheriff’s officials said.

All three victims had been seated in the back of the Mazda. The impact of the crash threw Clydnesha from the car onto a metal fence, according to officials at the scene.

Two other passengers and the driver suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The adult driver and passenger of the SUV that struck the car were not seriously injured, sheriff’s officials said.

The 13-year-old driver and three victims all lived within blocks of each other and had grown closer in the last few months when they started to “chirp” each other -- using the walkie-talkie function on some cellphones to chat.

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Friends and neighbors, some bringing candles, teddy bears and notes to the crash scene Sunday, described what led up to the accident.

R.J. Grant, 14, who lived on the same block as the two boys killed, said he and another friend had ridden in the car with the 13-year-old driver shortly before the accident, taking a few laps around their cul-de-sac.

He and Terrell Frey, 13, got out of the car just before their friends drove off from the cul-de-sac.

“They went out to pick up Clydnesha, get something to eat, and then drive back here,” Grant said.

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“I got out because I looked at him,” he said, pointing to Terrell, “and he looked at me and he said, ‘You probably will get in trouble with your dad.’ ”

Ricky -- who R.J. said had been dating the driver -- at first also got out of the car but returned when his girlfriend called him back.

R.J. said the 13-year-old girl had told him she had learned to drive at age 11. Upon hearing about the accident, R.J. said he and several other friends cried. “My parents said, ‘Don’t get into a car with a person that has no driver’s license. That could’ve been your life.’ ”

Relatives said Derrius and Ricky had been close friends for five years, often playing on quiet Paulsen Circle, where they lived with their parents, only a few blocks from the accident scene.

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On a plywood box where the two boys used to hang out every day, friends had scrawled “R.I.P.”

Derrius’ mother said her son was a 10th-grader at Westchester High School, a good kid who followed her rules.

“He wouldn’t go off the street,” said Donetta Johnson, 43. “He was not in a gang. He wasn’t exposed to that because he [had] been in private schools all his life.”

Derrius excelled in history and science, she said, and had said he dreamed of taking care of animals someday as a zoologist. Neighbors remembered him and Ricky Ward as friendly, athletic kids who always waved to adults when they went by.

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“They were smart kids,” said Jammie Smith, 21. “They never came out unless they did their homework.”

Ricky was the more outgoing of the two, friends and relatives said. The Bud Carson Middle School student liked to sketch faces, his uncle said.

Harry Neal said he used to pick up Ricky from school every day and take the boy to his house to finish his homework and eat.

“He just wanted to play football in high school and keep his grades up,” Neal said.

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“This was the first time he didn’t listen,” said Eddie Ward, 37, Ricky’s cousin. “There’s a lot going on in the world and his parents would say, ‘Stay away from gangs, stay away from drugs.’ He did.”

Neighbors said Clydnesha Lindsey had only started hanging out on the cul-de-sac in the last few weeks.

Friends remembered her as a funny, popular girl who swung rifles and marched as part of a “cadet” program at Walton Middle School.

Classmates taped up Lil’ Romeo posters to the fence where Clydnesha died; she had a crush on the rapper. Amunique Hackett, 13, who had been the girl’s best friend for two years, said they often went to Compton Fashion Center and stopped at a one-hour photo shop to pose for pictures to share with friends.

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Amunique said her friend’s mother was distraught.

“Her mama will not come out of the house,” she said.

Trying to make sense of the accident, parents, neighbors and friends said they thought the young teens may have been trying to seem cool.

“The average young boy at that age is ready for two things -- a first girlfriend and getting behind the wheel of a car,” said Felecia Tripp, 41, who lives on Paulsen Circle.

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“When they hear it was in Compton, they’ll think it was a shooting, or they was drunk, they was high,” said Debra Johnson, 46, another neighbor. “They wasn’t.”

The accident shook sheriff’s deputies and firefighters who rushed to the scene, said Miller, the sheriff’s sergeant.

“I think every Compton police and fireman out there probably called their kids and said this is what can happen,” he said. “Kids don’t realize they are driving a 3,000-pound bullet. If you run over somebody, it’s like being shot.”

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Times staff writer Nancy Wride contributed to this report.


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