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The Region

Did Errant Driver Have a Death Wish?

Tragedy: Long Beach man may have purposely driven his pickup into a Laguna Niguel couple's car, witnesses say.

April 07, 2002|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 20-year-old man driving the wrong way down a busy Orange County freeway did nothing to avoid oncoming vehicles before he slammed into a luxury car, killing himself and a couple on their way to a poetry reading class, witnesses said Saturday.

Still shaken by their close brush with death in Friday evening's fiery crash, witnesses Jerry and Barbara Lehman recalled how they were driving north on the San Joaquin Hills tollway, heading to dinner with friends, when they saw the headlights of a black Ford Ranger pickup hurtling toward them.

Jerry Lehman, who was at the wheel of the family Volvo, instinctively swerved right, rubbing against another car on the freeway's slow lane as the Ranger rushed past, inches away. Looking into his rear view mirror, Lehman saw sparks fly as the pickup truck, driven by Steven McLin of Long Beach, struck a Jaguar S-Type car that had been immediately behind the Lehmans.

"He was coming very fast--head on," recalled Barbara Lehman, 56. "It looked like it was totally intentional, almost like it was a suicide."

The Lehmans stopped their car and ran 300 yards back to the accident scene to see if they could help the injured.

"There weren't any skid marks at all [on the freeway]," said Jerry Lehman, 60. "I don't think he made any effort at all to stop."

California Highway Patrol officers released few details Saturday about their investigation of why McLin was driving on the wrong side of the road.

Killed along with McLin were the passenger and driver of the Jaguar: Farzad Yaganeh and his wife, Fereshteh Sadeghi, both 41. The Laguna Niguel couple, who had two daughters, 7 and 12, were on their way to a reading of Iranian poetry in Irvine.

Clad in black, friends and relatives gathered at the couple's home Saturday. The two were college sweethearts and remained devoted after 17 years of marriage, friends said.

"They were very much in love," said Mahasti Sadighi, a close friend of the couple.

"It was good that they died together. They couldn't have survived without each other. They were always together."

They came to the United States shortly before the 1979 Iranian revolution and met as college students in Boston. Yaganeh owned an Orange County property rental and investment business, said his brother-in-law, Tony Sadeghi.

Yaganeh's wife worked until recently as a commodities broker in Aliso Viejo. But two months ago, she decided to quit work so she could spend more time with her daughters, Sadighi said.

The couple, she said, were fixtures at their girls' elementary school, volunteering to take students on field trips and helping with grading.

Friday evening, the couple were heading to a meeting of the Persian poetry group they attended each week.

Shortly before 6:18 p.m., the CHP said, McLin drove his brand-new pickup up an offramp and onto the freeway at Bonita Canyon Road. Whether he did so mistakenly remains unclear. His family could not be reached for comment.

About two miles up the freeway from the offramp, McLin's pickup whizzed by the Lehmans' car before smashing into the Jaguar.

When the Lehmans made their way back to the crash scene, they saw the pickup split in two. The rear of the Ranger lay atop a Toyota Tacoma pickup whose driver, Debbie Kellog of Costa Mesa, escaped serious injury.

McLin and Sadeghi were already dead. Yaganeh was on the side of the road. He was airlifted to Western Medical Center-Santa Ana and later pronounced dead.

"It was terrifying," said Barbara Lehman. "That was the closest I've ever come to death. It could have been us."

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