A former UCLA track star and another person were killed early Wednesday when the convertible in which they were riding careened into a traffic island, overturned and crashed into a tree in the Mid-City district, Los Angeles police said.
Authorities identified one of the victims as Jeffrey David West, 39, who was a champion 800-meter runner in his college years at UCLA. Police would not release the name of a woman who was killed until relatives are notified. A second woman in the car was badly injured and taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was listed in serious but stable condition.
The accident, which police said sent the car flying upside-down about 50 feet, occurred at Washington and West boulevards. Witnesses told police the BMW's occupants were arguing just before the crash.
"We know the car was heading eastbound on Washington Boulevard at a high rate of speed at 7 a.m. Witnesses said the driver was honking the horn as if to get someone's attention," said Los Angeles Police Capt. James Miller, adding, "Then they hit the island and the pine tree."
He said the car's steering wheel and air bag were found several feet from the car. He said none of the passengers were wearing seat belts, but he expressed doubt that such precautions would have saved the victims, given the speed of the car.
West lived in Athens, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County near Inglewood. He is survived by his mother, his wife, Teresa Starks, and two children from a previous marriage.
According to the UCLA sports information office, West's best record of 1:47:0 was the third-fastest time in the history of the school.
West was killed on his wife's 51st birthday. Starks, the owner of the car, said she was still asleep when her husband left early Wednesday, promising her he would return with a "good surprise." She said she was awaiting word on who the other passengers were.
Jose Rivas, who owns a dry-cleaning business across the street from where the accident occurred, said he heard the crash on his way to work. "There was this incredible boom. I was terrified. I thought something had exploded," he said.
Starks, a biochemical engineer, described her husband of one year as "tall, dark and handsome" and said he had dedicated his life to Islam. She said the two ran a missionary and shuttle service that took families to visit incarcerated relatives.
"I believe God has a plan," she said. "I know my husband loved me, and nothing and no one can take that from me."