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Passenger in Crash Sought

Accident: Police want to question man who rode in SUV that hit a van carrying disabled adults, killing two.

June 20, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles police detectives want to question a passenger in a sport utility vehicle that was involved in a fatal head-on collision with a van carrying developmentally disabled adults.

Thomas Joseph Merino, 44, was in the front passenger seat of the SUV being driven by Bonnie Yvonne Lee, 28, of Van Nuys, Los Angeles Police Det. Jose Viramontes said at a news conference Wednesday at the Van Nuys police station.

Detectives appealed to Merino, who disappeared after the accident, to contact them in connection with the case.

Police believe Merino resides in the San Francisco area, but he also has lived in San Diego, San Carlos and Honolulu, Viramontes said. He also urged others who may have witnessed the crash to come forward.

Lee has been charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, and one count each of driving without a license and child endangerment. The latter charge was for allegedly driving recklessly with a 2-year-old child in the back seat.

Lee was driving about 70 mph in the 6800 block of Woodley Avenue on May 23 when her Ford Explorer swerved into oncoming traffic and hit the van owned by the Tierra del Sol Foundation, authorities said.

Tauheedah Brown, 25, a foundation employee, and Robert Hawthorne, 38, a client, died from injuries suffered in the crash. Four other van passengers were treated at hospitals and released.

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