Investigators trying to determine what led to fiery early morning crash that killed five teens in Irvine asked Monday for witnesses to come forward with accounts of what they saw.
Only the 16-year-old, unlicensed driver survived the single-vehicle collision that occurred off the 5 Freeway about 2:15 a.m. Saturday.
Driver Bradley Morales was identified in a brief statement released Saturday evening by Children's Hospital of Orange County at Mission Hospital, where he underwent brain surgery and was in intensive care.
The teens were headed home from Buena Park after attending Knott’s Scary Farm when their car veered off the freeway and crashed on an embankment, sparking a quarter-acre brush fire, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.
The California Highway Patrol said that the 16-year-old driver of the BMW sedan did not have a license or a permit. At a news conference Monday morning, authorities said the vehicle appeared to be currently registered in California to a family member whose exact relationship to the driver was not yet determined.
The five teen passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. They have been identified as Jenny Campos, Jenny Bahena, Alex Sotelo, Matthew Melo and Brandon Moreno.
“It is a very tragic incident. Not only is it affecting the family members and the community, it’s also affecting the first responders," said CHP Capt. Joel Lundy at Monday's news conference.
CHP officials said they had not received official notification of the victims' names.
If the number of occupants in the exceeded the number of seat belts, then one person was not secured as required by law, CHP Border Division Assistant Chief John Antillion said.
Investigators asked for the public's help, saying witnesses were needed to describe what occurred before the crash. It was not known at what speed or in what lane the vehicle was traveling before it left the roadway and struck a guardrail.
There were so far no reports of erratic driving that preceded the crash, Antillion said.
"We're asking for anyone who may have seen the vehicle traveling down Interstate 5 prior to the collision, or who maybe saw the collision occur," he said. "At this point, we don't have any witnesses to the collision."
There was no initial indication drugs or alcohol were involved, but additional tests were being conducted to rule out their involvement, Antillion said. Investigators had preliminary conversations with the driver at the hospital and very briefly at the scene, but details of what was said were not released.
Campos and Bahena, both 14, attended Laguna Hills High School, while Sotelo and Melo were students at Capistrano Valley High School.
Moreno went to Carl Hankey K-8 School in Mission Viejo, the Times reported.
A vigil was planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the school.
Thousands of people, including students, teachers and family members, gathered at memorials that were held over the weekend to honor and remember the students who were killed.
Grief counselors and psychologists were available at schools across the district on Monday, according to Dr. Julie Hatchel, the assistant superintendent of Capistrano Unified School District. Counselors will remain on campuses as long as they're needed, she said.
"These were students that were very involved in our schools and communities, and we know that it will deeply impact our community," Hatchel said.
She encouraged parents to talk with their children about the crash, and to allow them time to grieve.
The investigation will take a month or longer, Antillion said.