MISSION VIEJO — For one Capistrano Valley High School graduating senior, a Tuesday night party turned abruptly into Wednesday morning's tragedy.
Just hours after graduating with several hundred of his fellow students and friends, Mark Alan Wilson, 17, was killed when he lost control of his Volkswagen Beetle on Santiago Canyon Road and crashed.
Wilson had apparently just left the festive, all-night Grad Night party in the school's gym about 5:20 a.m. and was traveling north on the winding, rural highway south of Peters Canyon Road when he struck the right curb, spun 180 degrees and rolled his father's car at least three times, said Officer Angel Johnson of the California Highway Patrol.
The high-speed crash ejected Wilson, who was not wearing a seat belt, through the windshield, Johnson said. Wilson was traveling alone in the 1967 car and there was no evidence of any use of alcohol, she said, adding that fatigue from the long party may have caused the accident.
"He was still wearing his Grad Night tag," said Johnson, referring to the school "passport" that is the student ticket to festivities designed in part to avoid the alcohol-related car accidents that sometimes accompany graduation parties. It was the first graduation-related party death in Orange County this year.
At the Wilson home in Mission Viejo, family members would speak only briefly on the telephone.
"He was really looking forward to Grad Night," said Brigitte Wilson, the teen-ager's mother. "That's all I can say."
Wilson had not established long-range plans for the future other than to attend Saddleback College and possibly go into politics some day, his mother said. An inscription in the Capistrano Valley High School 1992 yearbook asked he and other students what will life be like in 2002.
" 'I will be Speaker of the House,' asserts politician-to-be Mark Wilson," it reads.
And more immediate plans of Wilson's will also never be fulfilled.
"He was supposed to leave today on a river rafting trip," Brigitte Wilson said.
Among the lingering questions remaining for the Wilson family was why their son was driving on Santiago Canyon Road--the opposite direction from home--when he was killed?
"I really don't know," his mother said.
Wednesday morning's tragedy marred an otherwise accident-free June full of graduation celebrations. It certainly dampened what had been exultant feelings of triumph around the Mission Viejo campus. Wilson was one of 520 Capistrano Valley High School students who graduated Tuesday night and one of 440 who attended the Grad Night party with the "Hollywood Extravaganza" theme.
"This is definitely very hard to face at this time of year. The whole school staff is just devastated," said Principal Jessica Leadley. "We had ended the year on such a positive note."
High schools all over the county hold all-night Grad Night affairs such as these, said Jackie Price, a spokeswoman for the Capistrano Unified School District. Students paid $45 each to attend the event, which cost parents about $40,000 to put on, including all the elaborate decorations, food and games, Price said.
All Grad Nights are planned and chaperoned by parents and faculty in an attempt to ensure that students are not on the streets late at night, she said.
"The whole intent of Grad Night is to provide a safe, entertaining and alcohol-free post-graduation," Price said.
Capistrano Valley High School's all-night affair ended about 5 a.m. and Wilson apparently stayed until the end since he was not on the special list of students allowed to leave early, Price said.
"Most of the students left between 5 and 5:15," said Price, adding that Wilson should have been one of those students. He crashed just minutes later, at least 10 miles away from the high school, however.
A school official said there was a possibility Wilson had taken a close friend home before he attempted to drive out into the country to welcome the dawn.
Guy Wilson, the teen-ager's father, called his son "a very quiet" young man who was not outgoing at school and who stuck to his few close friends. His physics teacher, Bob Skelley, agreed.
"Mark was extremely shy and seemed to enjoy science and math classes," Skelley said. "He worked alone much of the time . . . but he had three close friends who looked out for each other."
Times staff writer Jeffery Perlman contributed to this story.