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Driver Is Sought in Death of Cyclist, 18

Hit-and-run: Man in a white Blazer stopped twice to check his vehicle, then fled. The victim, Julio Perez, was a Laguna Beach student who worked two jobs.

July 03, 2001|MAI TRAN and JASON SONG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Police are distributing fliers at local auto-repair shops in the hope of tracking down the driver who struck and killed a Laguna Beach High School student who was bicycling Sunday evening.

Julio Perez, 18, a recent Mexican immigrant who worked two jobs to help support his family in addition to going to school, was on his way home from playing basketball.

He was riding east in the bike lane in the 1800 block of Laguna Canyon Road shortly after 8 p.m. when he was hit from behind by a sport utility vehicle and thrown more than 70 feet, landing at the side of the road, police said.

"The car veered off the road and hits the bicyclist, then returned to the roadway," said Police Sgt. Louise Callus. "The bicyclist was traveling in the right flow of traffic and riding where he should have been."

Police are looking for a white 1983 to 1990 Chevy S-10 Blazer with right front-end damage and a license plate that includes the letters JM. Fragments from the car, including a portion of the light cover, were recovered at the accident site.

Witnesses described the driver as a white male in his 30s, 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, medium build, with medium-length, straight, dark-brown hair.

Witnesses told police the driver stopped about a mile from the accident to inspect the front of his vehicle. He stopped again, a short distance later, to recheck it.

Perez was taken to South Coast Medical Center in Laguna Beach by ambulance, where he reportedly died a short time later.

Perez had moved to the United States about two years ago and lived with his father and two cousins about a mile from where he was struck, family members said. He had just completed his sophomore year at Laguna Beach High.

The scene of the accident is considered a relatively safe portion of Laguna Canyon Road, Police Chief James E. Spreine said. The road is wider there, with a slight grade and a bike lane. But the canyon road is infamous for its motorists who speed through sharp curves, especially in the Big Bend area east of the accident scene.

At Perez's condo, neighbors and friends milled about the dusty driveway and traded stories of the slightly built young man who had a soft spot for children.

"He would come home and play with my children and bring them chocolates and sweets, even though he didn't have that much money," said neighbor Inocencio Salgado.

Family members and neighbors said Perez was trying to save money for his long-anticipated goal: to graduate from high school.

"He said to me, 'Naty. . . . I will graduate [soon]. Can you help me save money for my cap and gown?' " said Naty Argueta, a staffer at the Laguna Day Worker Center, where Perez worked on Saturdays. Perez also worked as a packer at Langlois Fancy Frozen Foods Inc. in Laguna Beach.

Perez wanted to start his own business after he graduated, family and friends said. Eventually, he hoped to save enough money to return to Mexico, said his 20-year-old brother, Juan.

"He liked working at so many jobs because he learned something new from everyone," said friend Jordan Salgado. "He hoped to use all that knowledge in his own business someday."

Anyone with information about the accident is urged to call Laguna Beach police at (949) 497-0701.

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