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3 UCSB Students Dead, 1 Missing After Their Car Plunges Into Ocean

November 21, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

VENTURA — Three University of California, Santa Barbara, students were killed and a fourth was missing Friday night after their car plunged off California 1 into the Pacific Ocean south of Point Mugu.

Ventura County Sheriffs have recovered and identified the bodies of Michele Marie Friedlander, 20, of Pacific Palisades, Matthew Plaskett, 21, of Salinas and Miguel Garza, 20, of Los Gatos. Authorities searched the coastal waters Friday for a fourth passenger, Wendy Finkel of Woodland Hills, a roommate of Friedlander who was reportedly traveling with the others. Finkel, who turned 19 on Thursday, failed to show up for her birthday party in Isla Vista that evening.

Authorities said they believe that the students were returning to Santa Barbara in the early morning Thursday, after spending Wednesday evening in Los Angeles, when the 1986 Honda Civic driven by Plaskett failed to navigate a turn on California 1 south of Sycamore Canyon.

Car Falls Into Ocean

The car went over the dirt shoulder on the mountain side of the highway and traveled more than 200 feet, then veered across the oncoming lanes, over an embankment and careened 35 feet into the ocean, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said.

A fisherman discovered the car at 8:40 a.m. Thursday. It was floating upside down about 30 feet from shore. Authorities found Plaskett in the driver's seat and Friedlander in the back seat, said CHP spokesman Jim Utter. Garza's body was found about 1:45 p.m. Friday submerged near some rocks about 400 yards offshore, Utter said. Both Plaskett and Friedlander died by drowning, said Ventura County coroner's investigator Mitch Breese. An autopsy to determine Garza's cause of death was scheduled for today, Breese said.

Until nightfall Friday, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, using helicopters and divers, combed the coastal area unsuccessfully seeking Finkel's body. A Sheriff's Department spokesman said no search will be conducted today because of anticipated rain and high winds, but the search will resume when the weather clears.

Betty Finkel, mother of the missing young woman, said she is convinced that her daughter perished with the others because of an unsettling nightmare that awakened her early Thursday.

'I Couldn't Breathe'

"I know she's gone. I'm sure it happened at 2 a.m. I woke up suddenly and I really felt like I was drowning. I sat up in bed and I couldn't breathe," Betty Finkel recounted.

Finkel said she realized the impact of her dream later that day when authorities notified her of her daughter's disappearance.

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