Friends and family members Tuesday mourned the deaths of two recent San Diego high school graduates and a college cheerleading coach from Corona who were killed in a fiery, three-vehicle collision near Bishop late Monday that also injured 16 people, five critically.
Cathedral Catholic High School graduates Amanda Paige Post, 18, of Encinitas and Natalie Nield, whose age and hometown were not available, were killed when the sport utility vehicle in which they were riding rolled through the center divider into oncoming traffic just before 8:30 p.m. Monday on U.S. 395 a few miles south of Bishop, authorities said.
The southbound SUV smashed into a northbound van carrying 13 cross-country team members from Riverside and burst into flames, said California Highway Patrol Officer Dennis Cleland.
The crash killed Wendy Rice, 35, of Corona, a cheerleading coach who was driving the van, one of three carrying dozens of cross-country team members north from California Baptist University in Riverside to a high-altitude training camp in Mammoth.
Eleven student athletes from Cal Baptist were taken to area hospitals with minor to serious injuries: Kayla M. Beaudoin, 19, of Corona; Marissa Benson, 18, of Gresham, Ore.; Alicia Catanese, 21, of Corona; Miguel Angel Gonzalez, 18, of Hacienda Heights; Jonathan Hernandez, 18, of Moreno Valley; Hanna Ingulsrud, 19, of Ontario; Jennifer McGuire, 17, of Stevenson Ranch; Jonathan Monteon, 18, of Chino; Alyssa Neimeyer, 19, of Temecula; Brenda Perez, 20, of Riverside; and David Solis, 19, of Corona.
Cal Baptist student Rebecca Trupp, 20, of Riverside suffered severe head injuries and was airlifted to a hospital in Reno.
Drew Delis, 22, and Derek Thomas, 19, both Cathedral Catholic High graduates from Encinitas who were in the SUV, also were hospitalized with severe injuries, school officials said.
An unidentified, 19-year-old woman was hospitalized with third-degree burns after her Subaru hit the burning SUV.
Officials initially said six people had died but later revised the death toll to three.
Authorities at first thought the SUV also was carrying student athletes because they found running gear in the wreckage.
The San Diego high school graduates were former cross-country runners, but it is unclear where they were headed, according to a letter posted on the school’s website by Principal Mike Deely.
“This is a severe shock to all of us, and our prayers are with our family and friends affected by this tragedy,” Deely wrote.
More than 200 students, teachers, parents and friends gathered at the Cathedral Catholic High chapel Tuesday morning to say the Rosary for the victims. Members of the school’s cross-country team were planning to meet to pray for their former teammates, according to the letter.
At Cal Baptist, a small campus of about 4,000 students, students were planning a memorial for Rice, a mother of two who worked as a coach and choreographer at Corona del Mar High School and Centennial High School in Corona before joining the university three years ago, according to her biography on the university website. Because the cross-country team has only two coaches and needed an extra driver, Rice volunteered to drive the third van, a spokesman said.
“We have lost a beloved member of our CBU family,” university President Ronald L. Ellis said in a statement on the school’s website. “On behalf of the university community, I want to express our deepest sympathy to Wendy’s husband and their two young children.”
CHP officials are investigating the collision to determine what went wrong on the four-lane highway, where the speed limit is 65 mph.
“It doesn’t quite fit,” Cleland said. “It’s a straight road, plainly marked, no unusual conditions, and this happens.”