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1 Teenager Dies, 2 Critically Injured in Crash After Party

May 24, 1997|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — A sport utility vehicle packed with 10 Newport Harbor High School students overturned early Friday on a winding stretch of road and ejected eight passengers, leaving one youth dead and two others in critical condition.

A night of partying ended in grisly tragedy for the teenagers when the driver of the vehicle, 18-year-old Jason Andrew Rausch, apparently lost control while speeding on a curve on Irvine Boulevard next to Upper Newport Bay, police said.

Rausch was a designated driver for the group and did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to Newport Beach Police Lt. Doug Fletcher. The teenager was released on bail Friday after being arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter.

Donald "Donnie" Bridgman, also 18, died at the scene after he was thrown from the vehicle, which had its roof peeled back by the crash. Daniel Townsend, 18, and a 17-year-old girl who was not identified were in critical condition.

Friends who were following in a second car said the group had been stopped by sheriff's deputies less than an hour earlier in front of a Santa Ana Heights house where neighbors had complained about a noisy party.

"They made everybody get out and empty out the alcohol they had, all the beer," said Jennifer Hunter, a 16-year-old friend who was about 150 feet behind the vehicle when it overturned. "Then they just let everybody go."

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Tom Garner said his agency began reviewing Friday all the logs of deputies on duty at the time. "We're looking into it, but we have no specific information yet," Garner said.

The news of Donald Bridgman's death sent shock waves through the 1,800-member student body at Newport Harbor High, where he was described by classmates as a bright, handsome youth with a warm sense of humor. They recalled that he had recently hired an Elvis Presley impersonator to serenade his girlfriend on campus.

School officials said counseling and some form of memorial s will be arranged. Principal Gary Norton said the crash was a wrenching reminder that tragedy can take youngsters, especially at a time of school year-end celebrations.

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