Orange high school student dies after golf cart accident

Manny Perez, 15, with his mother, Michaela Corona.
(Family photo)

A 15-year-old student at an Orange high school has died after crashing a golf cart on campus, prompting questions from his family about the moments leading up to the accident.

Emmanuel “Manny” Perez died at Children’s Hospital of Orange County after the accident Monday morning at El Modena High School.

Details released Wednesday by Orange Unified School District outline how Manny, who had been diagnosed with severe autism, was with his one-on-one aide and a second aide when he got into a parked golf cart. The aides tried to persuade Manny to get out of the cart and tried to stop it as it sped forward and crashed, according to the district.


Emergency responders were immediately called and arrived in about four minutes, according to the district. There were no other students involved or near the scene, the district said.

“Words are insufficient to describe the pain our students and staff are now feeling,” Supt. Gunn Marie Hansen said in a letter Tuesday to the school community. “As we take the steps necessary to support the family and student body, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, loved ones and friends.”

The school district has said that Manny was never left unattended.

Robert Glassman, Manny’s family’s attorney, said the boy’s mother, Michaela Corona, was given conflicting reports of what happened.

“At first, they told her Manny was with some teachers and he got away from the teachers, got inside the golf cart on his own and accelerated into a brick wall where he suffered the fatal injuries,” Glassman, a trial attorney at Panish, Shea and Boyle, said Wednesday. “Later they told her that he was actually already inside the golf cart with a supervisor at the school, and the supervisor got out of the golf cart, left Manny in there by himself unsupervised with the key in the ignition, and that’s when he accelerated into the wall. Under either scenario, it’s unacceptable.”

Manny’s family was told that sometimes as a reward, school staff would take Manny on rides in the golf cart, Glassman said.

Along with questions about what happened, the family also has concerns about how long it took Manny to receive emergency medical care.

When Manny arrived at the hospital, the surgery team told his family that his injuries were so extensive, there was nothing they could do, Glassman said. Corona would like answers about when 911 was called and whether her son could have survived with quicker access to medical care, Glassman said.

In an email Wednesday evening, Hansen, the district superintendent, reiterated that Manny was never left unattended and that the district was fully cooperating with the Orange Police Department’s investigation into the accident.

“We are grieving the loss of our student,” Hansen said. “We are heartbroken by the tragic accident and continue to offer support and grief counseling to the family, staff and students.”

Manny enrolled at El Modena High School last year, completing the second half of his freshman year there, and had just returned a few weeks ago to start his sophomore year, Glassman said. He was diagnosed with autism as a young child, developmentally was limited in his capacity to live independently and wasn’t safe without supervision, Glassman said.

This past weekend, Manny had attended his cousin’s birthday party, and pictures show the family smiling together. Manny loved being with his family, including his three siblings, telling jokes and being outside.

For Manny’s mother, Glassman said, “hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit is really about making sure we examine the policies and procedures of the school district to understand how this kind of thing happened so it doesn’t happen again to any other family. It’s very important to her and the rest of the family that this leads to some kind of change at the school so this never happens again.”

Manny Perez, 15, with his family at a recent birthday party.
Manny Perez, 15, with his family at a recent birthday party.
(Family photo)