They were a trio of sweet, fun-loving girls, ready for anything.
Jillian Baedeker, 19, Chelsea Toma, 19, and 18-year-old Nancy Le were
part of a close-knit group that went to the beach, shopped, sunbathed and
went to coffee shops.
It was a Starbucks Coffee shop that the three girls were driving home
from at about midnight on March 20 when their lives were tragically cut
Police say the Nissan Sentra they were in was broadsided by a 1983
yellow Ford Mustang driven by 27-year-old James Paul Bell Jr. from
Rowland Heights at the intersection of Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue
in Huntington Beach.
Bell was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving. He remains in
the custody of the Orange County Sheriff's Department at UCI Medical,
where he is listed in stable condition.
He could be charged with anything from manslaughter to second degree
murder, said Officer Robert Barr of the Huntington Beach Police
Tears of farewell
The three girls were often inseparable. They all attended Marina High
School and hung out on the weekends.
Baedeker and Toma graduated from Marina in 2001, while Nancy was
supposed to graduate this year from Coast Independent High School in
Huntington Beach, said 18-year-old Michelle Paik, who met Le in the
eighth grade and Baedeker and Toma two years ago while all four attended
"Nancy and I hung out a lot with Jillian, Chelsea and the whole group
on the weekends. [Le's] favorite thing was shopping, she knew all the
gossip," Paik said, smiling. "They were the life of the party. Chelsea
rode [horses], was the All-American girl out to have fun, Jillian did
kick boxing and was the nicest girl you could ever meet. They were just
out to have a good time all the time."
Family and friends hugged one another and cried as they remembered Le
"Fashion was her passion," said Le's 21-year-old brother Tai Le, the
eldest of three siblings that included Nancy and 13-year-old John. "She
was a very articulate person in design, really creative. She was planning
on going to San Francisco in the spring or fall after taking some time
off from classes."
The three siblings were inseparable, always giving each other advice
and helping in any way they could, said Tai Le, who will graduate from
Orange Coast College in the spring and wants to study business at either
Cal State Fullerton or Cal State Long Beach.
"She was very unselfish," he said. "When she came home at night she
would help my little brother with his homework. We were inseparable, as
close as can be. We would give each other advice on personal things about
family affairs, girlfriends, boyfriends, school."
A flowering memorial
Family, friends and well-wishers placed flowers, photographs, candles
and teddy bears at a makeshift memorial site on the corner of Beach
Boulevard and Edinger Avenue near where the fatal accident occurred.
Baedeker's cousin, 35-year-old Kiersten Turrell, stood holding hands
with her two daughters, Caitlyn, 6, and Allison, 9, facing the flowers
and teddy bears at the memorial site.
As she looked at the growing mound of flowers, Turrell thought of when
she asked her cousin to be the flower girl at her wedding 14 years ago.
"I would look at her and say, 'Yeah, you're the flower girl,"' said
Turrell. "She was deciding on a career with children."
Baedeker had just returned from Las Vegas where she helped a friend's
father with his restaurant, Turrell said.
"She always had a smile on her face," Turrell said. "She was a
positive person that brightened up the room. We called her, 'Sweet
Santa Ana resident Jaemee Viglio, 19, stood gazing at the rows of red,
pink and peach-colored roses, white daisies, carnations, candles and
white and brown teddy bears trying to hold back the tears.
She would eat lunch with the three girls almost every day during her
senior year at Marina High.
"They were friendly girls, all exciting and never mean to anyone,"
Viglio said. "You could ask anything from any of them and they would do
it for you."
Baedeker and Toma were currently enrolled at Orange Coast College in
Family members described Toma as one who loved animals.
She rode horses since the age of 6 at the Huntington Beach Equestrian
Center and began teaching riding classes at the center when she got
older, said Denise Roane, Toma's aunt.
Along with her mom Lyn Toma and 17-year-old brother Michael Toma,
Chelsea also shared her Huntington Beach home with four cats, LeRoy, Toby
and Zora and 1-year-old Bailey, a pit bull-mix.
"She was a sucker for any stray animal," said Roane, who received
1-year-old Shadow, a female black cat, from Chelsea last Christmas.
Chelsea found the cat near the stables at the equestrian center.
Now 31, Roane remembers when Chelsea was born and how, at 13, she had
to learn to take care of the new baby.
"I spent so much time with her when she was little," Roane said. "She
taught me how to care for babies. I would walk into the room and she
would smile and giggle. She was always smiling, really easy to like."
In addition to taking classes at Orange Coast, the 19-year-old Toma worked as a cashier at Huntington Surf and Sport in Huntington Beach.
She and 20-year-old Todd Hutton were hired on the same day 1 1/2 years
Any kind of social gathering such as dances and parties attracted the
outgoing Toma according to Hutton, the store's surfboard department
"She liked to go dancing at clubs and was always seen at parties,"
Hutton said. "She was super social and outgoing and that's what attracted
her to those types of things. She was always smiling, laughing and joking
around and was easy to get along with."
A somber mood gripped the store the afternoon of March 20 after
employees found out about Toma's death, Hutton said.
"At first I heard she was in critical condition so I thought there was
hope, then we got the call later that day," Hutton said. "I was in
disbelief. The whole store shut down. Everyone was crying and almost
barely able to work. We're still feeling it now. She's got so many
friends at work and in the community."
* BRYCE ALDERTON is the news assistant. He can be reached at (714)
965-7173 or by e-mail at email@example.com