The driver of a car that was ripped in half in a violent Newport Beach crash that left five teens dead was described by high school friends Tuesday as an upbeat, happy person who went out of his way to compliment strangers.
As word of the crash and names of those believed to be involved spread, classmates of the Irvine High School student and the other teens riding in the Infiniti gathered Tuesday at the scene on Jamboree Road, not far from the city’s police station.
Police said excessive speed was a contributing factor in the crash, which occurred only a mile from where TapouT founder Charles Lewis was killed in 2009 in a high-speed collision.
Orange County coroner officials have not released the identities of those killed, though they said they had identified four of the five victims. Orange County sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino said all five were teenagers from Irvine.
Friends of the teens said they knew the driver and passengers by first name only.
“You never saw that guy frown once,” said Aram Yaco, 17, who said he knew the driver as “Nozad.”
One of the passengers in the car, who friends said they knew as “Cecy,” was recalled as a bubbly personality and “one of the happiest people you’ll ever meet.”
“It was funny when she tried to be mean because she couldn’t,” classmate Kelly Dunkle said in describing the teen’s effervescent personality.
As police continue to investigate the crash, they have already concluded that speeding was involved. The posted speed limit on Jamboree is 55 mph.
“Excessive speed was a contributing factor,” Newport Beach police spokeswoman Kathy Lowe said Tuesday.
Lowe said the Infiniti was heading south on Jamboree Road in the direction of Pacific Coast Highway when it veered into the center divider.
It struck a tree, ripped in two and burst into flames, authorities said.
“When we arrived, we found what we thought were two vehicles,” said Newport Beach fire Capt. Glenn White, who responded to the crash. “One was on fire.”
Four people were ejected from the vehicle and another was partially ejected, police said. Four of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene. The fifth was pronounced dead at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. The hospital is a designated trauma center.
“I’ve been on duty for almost 30 years, and I’ve seen some terrible vehicular accidents,” White said. “This was, if not the worst, one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”