Bryce Alderton They were a trio of...

Bryce Alderton

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

short.

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

Department.

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

Marina High.

"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

on Sunday.

"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

Jill."'

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

Costa Mesa.

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

ago.

Somber times

Any kind of social gathering such as dances and parties attracted the

outgoing Toma according to Hutton, the store's surfboard department

manager.

"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 bryce.alderton@latimes.com

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