A teenager, who remains in critical condition Monday after a horrific weekend accident that killed her two passengers, shouldn’t have been behind the wheel, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The still unidentified girl nodded off around 3 a.m. Sunday and rammed into a tree near Franklin Canyon and McHarry Ranch roads in Martinez. But CHP officers say she was driving a Toyota Solara while on a provisional license, which prohibited her from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The girl’s friends, Marlena Heim, 16, and Lauren Smith, 15, both residents of Martinez, died in the single-car crash.
"Preliminarily, we talked to her and she said she [fell] sleep and the last thing she remembers is being at 60 mph," CHP officer Ken Martin said.
He added that the girl was trying to making a turn when she struck the tree, smashing the car.
"With the airbag deployment and probably safety restraints that the driver had on, she was able to survive the collision," Martin said. "But, unfortunately, just because of the severity, with the tree and the car impacted right there on the passenger side, they really didn’t stand a chance."
Students of College Park High School in Pleasant Hill, where the victims were juniors, returned to school Monday, grappling with the loss of their friends.
"It happened so fast, you know, and sometimes you kind of forget about it and think you are going to see them again," said student Brenda Lopez.
The school’s principal Paul Gengler described his first thought after hearing about the accident.
"My immediate response [was,] ‘I hope they’re not my kids,’" he said, choking up. "It turned out they were."
Roughly a dozen counselors were on hand Monday to help the College Park community process its grief. Nearly 100 students stayed home, Gengler said.
"Both the kids and the staff are basically in mourning," he said. "Kids will walk down the hallway and they will just start crying."
While the victims’ friends struggle to process what happened Sunday, the driver is being treated at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek where she was rushed with major injuries.
"It’s just a lot of rumors everybody oh this happened but there are so many different realities," College Park student Corrina Beavers said. "You don't really know the true story."
The girl’s identity is being withheld as of Monday evening because authorities are still trying to determine whether she should face charges. They are also investigating whether alcohol or drugs played a part in the crash.
Officers hope that the tragic accident will raise awareness among youngsters and spark conversations about safe driving.
Randi Shepard, whose child studies at College Park, prayed for the girl’s recovery.
"It could be any of our kids, you know, and you just want the best for them," she said. "I just, I pray for them. Bless them all."