A car whose brakes may have failed ran a red light at 40 m.p.h. and rammed broadside into a van carrying a teacher and eight pupils from a Garden Grove preschool Monday afternoon, the California Highway Patrol said.
The force of the impact raised the 10-passenger van up on two wheels and nearly rolled it over, yet only one of the pupils was seriously injured--the one seated at the point of impact, officers said.
The 7-year-old boy, identified as Russell Lewis of Garden Grove, son of the preschool's administrator, suffered a severe cut and compound fractures of his right arm. The boy was reported in stable condition after undergoing reconstructive surgery at Humana Hospital Westminster Monday evening.
All of the pupils in the van were secured by seat belts, which undoubtedly prevented more serious injuries, CHP officers said.
The occupants of the car, however, were hospitalized at UCI Medical Center in Orange. The driver, Jung Sook Park, 30, of Norwalk, who officers believe was thrown against the steering wheel of her car, suffered head cuts, complained of chest pains and was listed in serious condition Monday.
Her two daughters, Angie, 5, and Anni, 4, who were sleeping in the back seat of the car, suffered head cuts and were admitted to the pediatric intensive car unit for observation after brain scans revealed no injuries.
No one in the car was wearing a seat belt, officers said. According to state motor vehicle records, Park had been cited for a seat belt violation 19 months earlier.
The van, driven by preschool teacher Dale Anne Silva, 21, of Garden Grove, had just left Sonshine Preschool, located in the basement of the Free Will Baptist Church at 8782 Lampson Ave. in Garden Grove. The school has an enrollment of 57 pupils. According to a school spokeswoman, the eight children in the van were being taken to a local park for a field trip.
The collision occurred shortly before 1 p.m., about a mile from the preschool where the van, heading south along Magnolia Street in Garden Grove, passed under the Garden Grove Freeway and entered the intersection with the freeway's eastbound off-ramp.
By then, Park's car was heading down the off-ramp toward the intersection, where Leslie Baggett, 28, of Seal Beach had stopped her car to wait for the light to change. Park's car seemed to zoom by, Baggett said later.
"She looked like she wasn't in control at all," Baggett said. "She just flew right by. She didn't even slow down. I said, 'Oh, my God, what is she going to do?'
"She plowed right into them. I knew it was going to happen. It was inevitable," Baggett said.
Mark Seitz, 28, of Costa Mesa said he was on the off-ramp behind Park's car. "From the angle of the off-ramp, they (in the preschool van) had no idea she was coming," he said.
According to CHP spokesman Lyle Whitten, the car hit the right side of the van near the rear wheel. The force of the collision carried both the car and van to the median and against a northbound truck waiting to turn left. "I'm still shaken," said the truck driver, Leroy Guddy, 51, of Stanton, who was not injured.
The van came to rest tipped up onto its right wheels and leaning against the car.
'Pretty Shaken Up'
Seitz said the children scrambled from the teetering van. "I was really surprised at how fast they got out," he said. Silva, the driver of the van, was helping the injured boy and "was screaming. She was pretty shaken up. She was really excited."
Badran Awni, 42, of Garden Grove, who had stopped his car to help, said some of the children "were kind of in a real shock. A couple of them were screaming."
A spokesman for the Garden Grove Fire Department said the department received so many excited calls reporting the accident that a larger-than-usual number of fire and paramedic units were dispatched.
Battalion Chief Vince Bonacker's unit was the first to arrive, and he said the stack of vehicles and the group of children huddled at the street's edge raised fears of a large number of serious injuries.
But a quick check of the scene revealed otherwise. "I was surprised there weren't more people seriously injured," Bonacker said. "The van took a pretty good blow broadside."
Expected More Injuries
"It's really amazing that something of that magnitude didn't result in more injuries," said paramedic Richard Rounds, who arrived at about the same time as Bonacker. "We expected a lot more injured children. We only had three children who required more than a couple of Band-Aids."
Bonacker said he was impressed by the only child with apparently serious injury--7-year-old Russell Lewis. "He was remarkably calm. He had a serious compound fracture, an open, bloody injury, very painful. He wasn't crying. The kid was pretty strong. He told me his name, and he sounded good."
Garden Grove fire officials identified the other students on the van, all from Garden Grove, as: Jason Rohdes, 6; Charlie Cartell, 8; Charlie Boudah, 5; John Martuszenshi, 9, and his brother, Josh, 7; Ian Aguilar 5, and April Collar, no age given.