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The Region

Street-Racing Death Latest in a Tragic Series

Margaret Leyva, 74, is the 12th Orange County fatality stemming from speed contests since mid-2001.

May 03, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

While the family of a 74-year-old woman killed by a drag racer on a busy Santa Ana boulevard mourned Friday, neighbors of the crash site say they are routinely troubled by motorists who use local streets to race.

The fatality on South Bristol Street was believed to be at least the 12th from drag racing on Orange County streets and highways since August 2001.

Anger grew Friday with the news that Margaret Leyva of Huntington Beach was killed the day before when a yellow Ford Mustang -- with markings indicating it was a high-performance model -- swerved into oncoming traffic and crashed head-on into her Volkswagen Golf. The crash occurred about 1:30 p.m. just north of Segerstrom Avenue.

Several witnesses said Friday that the driver of the Mustang had been racing with what they described as a bronze-colored Acura. However, Police Sgt. Baltazar de la Riva said investigators are seeking the driver of a red Honda based on their interviews with witnesses.

Manuel Leyva, one of Leyva's three children, pleaded for the motorist in the second vehicle to come forward.

"We need you to turn yourself in; we need you to accept responsibility," he said. "You have hurt our family deeply."

Some who work and live in the vicinity of the crash site say drag racers are an increasing problem.

"It's crazy that we have to live off a street where people who drive think a race is more important than human life," said Bernardo Ramirez, 36, who lives in the Palms, a compact apartment complex on Central Avenue, a block from the crash site. "The only thing that was unusual about this is that it happened during the day. Every weekend night, you can be sure that just after 11 o'clock you will hear the races. The screeching begins then, and it doesn't stop until at least 3 a.m. It's like living on a raceway."

The driver of the Mustang -- Julio Enrique Trujillo, 25, of Santa Ana -- was arrested on suspicion of reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter. He suffered several fractures and was taken to a hospital. The driver of the other car fled.

Witnesses said Trujillo was traveling at least 80 mph Thursday as he sped north on Bristol. The yellow car had the names "Julio Enrique" and "Saleen" painted on it. Saleen refers to Saleen Inc., a manufacturer of custom Mustangs. It was not certain Friday whether the car actually was one of the firm's custom cars.

De la Riva said the Police Department dispatches officers to Bristol Street on weekends because young motorists do cruise there, but he added that he does not believe street racing is that common. The city received only seven complaints of erratic, fast driving on the southern portion of Bristol Street in 2002, he said.

The incidents that do occur are "tough, because these are spur-of-the-moment races. They make eye contact and unfortunately, the race is on," he said. "It's very difficult to prevent them."

It is a problem that has perplexed officials statewide.

"We have seen a marked increase in illegal street car racing and the use of illegally modified vehicles being used for the races," said Alan Coppage, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Automotive Repair.

San Diego has used undercover officers and has stiffened penalties. Officials from Los Angeles and Ventura have stepped up efforts to ticket cars that are souped up in violation of state emissions laws, Coppage said.

The last street-racing fatality in Santa Ana involved a motorcyclist racing a friend on Segerstrom Avenue west of Harbor Boulevard on Nov. 17, 2001. On Aug. 3 of the same year, a father and his young daughter were killed at Flower Street and Central Avenue.

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