Accident victim described as loving, creative

Newport Harbor senior Crystal Morales' life changed dramatically Tuesday as she was walking home from school.

Just last week, Morales wrapped up an intense project as an editor and actor in a short student film. On Tuesday, the shy and creative teen was critically injured in a suspected DUI crash.

The 17-year-old is scheduled to graduate this spring and possibly enroll in Orange Coast College culinary classes or in film courses, said her mother, Gloria Morales.

Speaking from Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where Crystal is in a medically induced coma, Gloria's voice breaks up as she talks about her daughter.

"She is just one of the sweetest, most loving, caring individuals anybody could ever meet," said Gloria, 33, who added that Crystal, for some reason, also likes to cook alone. "She'll have us come home when the house smells so good, and she'll just be eating all by herself."

Gloria said Crystal loves to bake cakes "with tons of frosting," recalling her daughter's passion for baking.

The Morales family lives in Eastside Costa Mesa. Crystal's younger sister, a sophomore, was down the street when Crystal was hit, but didn't witness the accident.

Gloria learned of Tuesday's crash when someone called her at her office; she works as an executive assistant in Newport Beach.

Crystal was crossing Irvine Avenue after school with a few classmates when a black Chevy Tahoe hit her, throwing her several feet and critically injuring her, according to the Orange County district attorney's office. She sustained head trauma, internal bleeding, brain swelling and other internal injuries.

The driver, 38-year-old Marnie J. Lippincott, was allegedly on drugs and alcohol, the D.A.'s office said. She has been charged with felony driving under the influence and causing injury.

Lippincott's son also attends Harbor.

Until she can review the facts, Gloria said she didn't want to comment on the case.

Crystal has been at Harbor for all four years of high school, and attended Ensign Intermediate School before that.

Last week, Crystal and two other students turned in a short film on bullying — a major project that involved hours of editing. As one of the actors and a primary editor on the piece, she would devote time between classes, said Lisa Cermak, her film teacher.

She also spent two weeks this summer in an intensive film academy course, where she learned how to create a silent film.

"She's been very dedicated to learning how to edit and learning how to use the equipment," Cermak said. "She's creative, and she has what she wants in her head … We're just trying to get her to apply it to the arts."

Crystal's classmates are planning to tape get-well greetings that her family can play at her bedside, Cermak said.

Crystal acts outside of school as well. She works part time at Chuck E. Cheese's on Harbor Boulevard, where she sometimes dresses up as the mouse himself.

She's petite, though, so sometimes two other employees hoist her on their shoulders to get the kids' attention, her mother said.

Twitter: @mreicher

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