Former CdM cheer coach dies in car crash

Former Corona del Mar High School cheerleading coach Wendy Rice was one of three people killed in a fiery car crash south of Bishop that left about a dozen other victims hospitalized, authorities said Tuesday. She was 35.

About 8:24 p.m. Monday, a 2004 Ford Expedition carrying five people lost control on the southbound Highway 395 about five miles south of Bishop in the Owens Valley, rolling over the center divider and slamming into Rice's 2009 Ford Econoline van. The SUV caught fire and burned.

Rice had been the cheerleading director, coach and choreographer at CdM from 2001-08 and moved on to lead the squad at Riverside's California Baptist University in fall 2008.

She had led the CdM squad to winning the Cheerleaders of America West Coast Open Championship, the U.S. Spiritleaders National Championship and the Universal Cheerleaders Assn. West Coast Championship.

She also led the squad to second place in nationals.

"Wendy was widely known and well respected in cheerleading circles and will be greatly missed," Guy Olguin, principal of Corona del Mar Middle School, said in a prepared statement. "The Corona del Mar community extends our deepest sympathy to Wendy's friends and family. She will be missed but never forgotten."

Rice was driving the second of a three-vehicle caravan taking the university's cross-country team to training in the Eastern Sierra mountain town of Mammoth Lakes.

Neither of the other vans were involved in the crash, authorities said.

After the initial collision, a 2009 Subaru Legacy smashed into the burning Expedition. The driver of that car suffered burns and was taken to a nearby hospital. One person was thrown from the Expedition and died soon after on the highway and a second person died inside the vehicle, California Highway Patrol officials said.

A message by Principal Mike Deely of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, which was posted on the school's website, identified the two as Natalie Nield and Amanda Post.

The three others inside the SUV suffered serious injuries, including trauma and third-degree burns, and were taken to area hospitals. One is listed in extremely critical condition.

The coroner was scheduled to perform Rice's autopsy on Tuesday.

The dozen Cal Baptist athletes injured were taken to hospitals in four cities. Half of them remained hospitalized Tuesday.

The campus community was shocked by the tragedy.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic event," California Baptist University President Ronald L. Ellis said in a prepared statement. "We have lost a beloved member of our CBU family. On behalf of the university community, I want to express our deepest sympathy to Wendy's husband and their two young children."

Rice was devoted to her profession and to her squad, former CBU cheerleader Breanna Armstrong wrote on her blog.

"I had never had a coach that was so dedicated to her team as Wendy was," Armstrong wrote. "She taught us to be strong, to persevere, she taught us to be our very best."

The university's program is four years old but was already performing well under Rice's leadership.

Rice led the women's team to consecutive first-place finishes in the COA West Coast Championship, winning first in all but two of their eight competitions last season. The squad also made it to the finals in the NCA Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla., for the first time this year.

"We went through all the ups and downs together, and Wendy always found a way to get us together for team events," Armstrong wrote. "She was a loving, honest, respected and driven lady, and she will be missed. I will never forget her as a coach, as an individual and as a woman of God."

Rice is survived by her husband, Jason, and their children, Joseph and Caitlyn.

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