Authorities continued Sunday to investigate the cause of a crash that left five teens returning from Knott’s Scary Farm dead. But officials said speed was a factor.
Meanwhile, there was mourning in south Orange County, where the teens lived.
The white 1995 BMW sedan veered off the 5 Freeway in Irvine early Saturday morning and hit a guardrail, CHP officials said. Due to the speed, the vehicle continued up an embankment and came to rest on a concrete retaining wall, where it became engulfed in flames.
That touched off a small brush fire around the vehicle, which Orange County firefighters extinguished at 2:20 a.m., the CHP said. Five bodies were found inside the vehicle and the driver was found outside, officials said.
The 16-year-old male driver of the vehicle did not have a license, authorities said.
“We ran his name and date of birth his parents gave us and there was no record of him having a license,” said CHP Officer Florentino Olivera.
In California, motorists younger than 17-1/2 generally are also prohibited from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and aren’t allowed to have passengers under 20 years old.
The teenagers were heading home after spending the evening at Knott’s Scary Farm in nearby Buena Park when the crash occurred.
Neither the driver’s name nor those of the dead have been released. But three of the male victims played on a team with the Mission Viejo Soccer Club, and their coach, Billy McNicol, and two of the boys’ teammates said they have been told that the male passengers killed in the car were Alex Sotelo, Matthew Melo and Brandon Moreno. Alex and Matthew were ninth-graders at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, and Brandon was in eighth grade at Carl Hankey Middle School in Mission Viejo.
When Alex, Matthew and Brandon didn’t show up for their 8 a.m. soccer match in Mission Viejo on Saturday, McNicol said he didn’t think much of it.
It wasn’t unusual for some of the elite team’s members, all 14- and 15-year-olds, to arrive a little late. But when the game ended and his three players still hadn’t arrived, McNicol grew alarmed.
Then he got a call from a relative of one of the boys: All three, along with two girls, had died in the crash.
Nicholas Scarpone, team co-captain, and his father, Larry, had left the park when McNicol called to ask them to return.
“Everyone was just crying,” said Nicholas, a ninth-grader at San Clemente High School. Nicholas said he, Matthew and Alex were best friends who bonded over soccer.
“They were just really close friends,” Nicholas said, “and it’s sad to have them go this way.” He said he had only recently met Brandon.
“It feels so unreal and hasn’t hit me that they’re gone,” said Jorge Menchaca, a ninth-grader from San Juan Hills High School and another team co-captain. “I can’t believe I won’t see them anymore.”
Jorge said he and Alex had “pretty much been friends since way back.”
“He always showed up with such great attitude,” Jorge said. “He had a lot of passion for the game.”