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5 Die in Camp Pendleton Car Crash


SAN DIEGO — Three young women and two children were killed Wednesday morning at Camp Pendleton when their small car crashed into a bus on a rain-slicked two-lane road.

The five dead were among seven people in a Ford Escort that collided with a North County Transit District bus about 10:30 a.m.

Two children were taken to hospitals with minor injuries. Neither the bus driver nor any of the passengers on the Route 303 bus were injured.

Gunnery Sgt. Norm Cosme, a Marine spokesman, said the initial investigation indicates that the Ford Escort careened into the opposite lane. The bus suffered only minor damage, but the Ford was crumpled nearly in half. Metal-cutting tools had to be used to pry the bodies from the wreckage.

Four of the passengers were dead at the scene and a fifth was pronounced dead after being taken by helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.

The driver of the car was identified as Lisa Strauss, 19, of Fallbrook. Also killed were Michelle Davis, 18, of Oceanside and her 2-year-old son. The names of a 24-year-old woman and her 4-year-old daughter who were also killed were not released because not all relatives had been contacted Wednesday night.

A 6-month-old boy was taken to the base hospital with bruises. A 4-year-old boy was taken to Children's Hospital in San Diego for abdominal surgery and was reported in stable condition Wednesday.

Investigators said the driver was not wearing a seat belt and the adult passenger in the front seat was wearing only a lap belt. One of the surviving children was in an infant seat, but it was unclear whether any of the other children wore seat belts.

A transit district spokeswoman said that under district policy, the driver of the 44-seat bus was given drug and alcohol tests immediately after the crash. Results of those tests were unavailable.

Route 303 is one of the busiest of the transit district's 29 routes, with buses arriving at Camp Pendleton every 30 minutes during peak hours. The sprawling base has 34,000 Marines and sailors. About half live off base and many use public transportation.

The route enters Pendleton's main gate off Interstate 5 and takes a circuitous route before leaving at the camp's San Luis Rey gate east of Oceanside. The crash occurred on a hilly two-lane road near the Camp Margarita portion of the base.

Stagecoach Road was slick from the morning fog and a light rain at the time of the crash.

Four Marines who were riding in the bus rushed to help the injured in the car. "The two (surviving) kids were screaming," a lance corporal said. "That was the worst part."

Witnesses said the car was descending a winding road on a small hill when it spun out of control and collided with the bus. Both drivers slammed on their brakes seconds before the crash.

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