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A longtime newsman at the Orange County Register was killed when his pickup truck was hit by a BMW sedan believed to have been street racing in Santa Ana Thursday, investigators said.

The BMW was racing another car, heading north on Bristol Street, when it collided with a Ford truck that was making a turn at the intersection with Santa Clara Avenue around 12:15 p.m., said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

Gene Harbrecht is seen in an undated photo provided by the Orange County Register.
Gene Harbrecht is seen in an undated photo provided by the Orange County Register.

The force of the crash propelled the truck at least 50 feet, and it landed on its side and caught fire due to live wires, Bertagna said.

O.C. Register employees identified the pickup driver as 67-year-old Gene Harbrecht, who’d been with the newspaper since 1984. He most recently served as the national and international news editor for its parent company, Southern California News Group.

Bystanders worked to help extricate Harbrecht, who was described by Bertagna as an innocent victim. But Harbrecht died after being taken to a hospital, the corporal said.

Guillermo Velasquez, who lives nearby and heard the crash, said it was difficult to get him out because the truck was catching fire.

Luis Gonzalez’s hand was bandaged and bloodied after he says he punched through the truck’s window to help rescue Harbrecht.

“You don’t have time to think,” he said. “It’s more of a reaction. At that point, it’s human life.”

The BMW driver, identified as Louie Robert Villa from Santa Ana, was arrested at a local hospital for felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, police said. He remains in custody at the hospital and authorities did not provide information on his condition.

Investigators were able to track down the driver of the second car believed to have been racing the BMW, a black Infiniti sedan, which had fled the scene. That driver, identified as Ricardo Tolento Navarro from Santa Ana, was arrested on a vehicular manslaughter charge and was booked at the Santa Ana Jail, according to police.

Investigators also hope they can obtain surveillance video of the crash from residences in the area.

The scene remained active Thursday afternoon, and the intersection would be closed until further notice, officials said.

No further details were immediately available.