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Teen driver in fiery crash that killed five is charged with manslaughter

A makeshift memorial consisting of two wood crosses, candles and flowers marks the spot on a charred shoulder along southbound Interstate-5 in Irvine where five students from South Orange County died in a fiery crash October 4, 2014.

A makeshift memorial consisting of two wood crosses, candles and flowers marks the spot on a charred shoulder along southbound Interstate-5 in Irvine where five students from South Orange County died in a fiery crash October 4, 2014.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The teenage driver involved in a fiery vehicle collision that resulted in the deaths of five juvenile passengers in Irvine last year has been charged in connection with their deaths, authorities said Saturday.

Bradley Morales, who was 16 at the time and the sole survivor of the crash, was taken into custody on Saturday and booked into the Orange County Juvenile Detention Center, authorities said.

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He has been charged with five felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter, driving without a license and failure to show proof of financial responsibility in connection with the Oct. 4, 2014, crash on the 5 Freeway.

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“Our investigators took a great deal of time and painstakingly went over this case to ensure a thorough and comprehensive investigation was complete,” Capt. R. Shackleford of the California Highway Patrol said in a statement.

Morales, who suffered a serious head injury in the crash, told paramedics who treated him that the group was heading home after a night at Knott’s Scary Farm, the popular Halloween theme park at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park.

Authorities said at the time that the driver apparently did not have a license.

In California, motorists younger than 17½ are generally prohibited from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and aren’t allowed to have passengers under 20 years old.

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Investigators said the teens were traveling south on the 5 near the 133 Freeway interchange about 2:10 a.m. when their sedan veered off the roadway and hit a guardrail. The white 1995 BMW continued up an embankment and came to rest on a concrete retaining wall, where it became engulfed in flames, CHP officials said.

That touched off a small brush fire around the vehicle. Five bodies were found inside the vehicle and the driver outside.

Those killed in the crash were identified as Alex Sotelo, Matthew Melo, Brandon Moreno, Jennifer Campos and Jennifer Bahena. They ranged in age from 14 to 16.

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