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3 Die in Crash Near Santa Paula; Critically Injured Driver Arrested

He is suspected of drunk driving in the single- vehicle accident. Two cousins are among those killed; two other passengers survive.

November 28, 2003|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Three passengers were killed in a rollover crash near Santa Paula early Thanksgiving Day and their driver, fighting for his life, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving.

The dead were identified as Timothy R. Coultas, 23, of Santa Paula; his cousin, Michael Frick, 23, of Ventura; and Rebecca Singer-Beilin, 22, of Ventura.

The driver of the 1997 Ford pickup was identified as Tomas E. Mercer Jr., 22, of Santa Paula. He was listed in critical condition Thursday evening at Ventura County Medical Center.

Authorities said he lost control of the truck shortly before 2 a.m. while driving east on Foothill Road near Aliso Canyon Road.

Two other passengers, Jacob Waltrip, 23, and Carson Davidson, 25, both of Ventura, suffered minor cuts and scrapes.

The accident shattered six families on Thanksgiving Day.

Bob Coultas stifled tears as he spoke of his son, Tim.

"He was a wonderful kid, a great role model for his brother," Coultas said. "He had everything going for him. He had a degree, a great new job, a beautiful girlfriend. He was all set to go."

A graduate of St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Timothy Coultas graduated from Cal State Chico in December with a bachelor's degree in agricultural finance and liberal studies. He worked as a foreman for Limoneira, overseeing acres of avocado and lemon trees.

Born a month apart, Coultas and his cousin, Michael Frick, grew up together.

A star athlete at Buena High School in Ventura, Frick went on to break four baseball records at Cal State Northridge. He was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2001 and pitched in 99 games for three A's minor-league teams.

Before he joined the Midland Rockhounds in Texas this year, his teammates on the Modesto Athletics voted him pitcher of the year.

"He was a very promising player," said Bob Hards, a spokesman for the Rockhounds. "In the second half of the last season he had a tremendous upside, professionally."

Hards said Frick was known among his teammates for his humor. "He was very popular," Hards said.

Reached at home Thursday, members of Singer-Beilin's family said they were too upset to talk publicly about her.

Mercer's relatives were gathered at Ventura County Medical Center, where he was being treated in the intensive-care unit.

A bartender for several years at Eric Ericsson's on the Ventura Pier, Mercer is "a great person, a great personality," said his boss, Oscar Lapuente, the restaurant's manager.

Lapuente said Mercer worked Wednesday night, leaving the restaurant about 9:30 or 10 p.m. He said Mercer told him that he and his friends would be headed for his house in Santa Paula.

The accident occurred as the six friends were making their way from Santa Paula back to Ventura.

At the scene, the surviving passengers told police they were coming from a bar, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Reid.

According to the CHP, the truck drifted onto the right shoulder, swerved back to the left and overturned, hitting a guardrail and a bridge railing before righting itself.

Coultas and Singer-Beilin were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the truck, officials said.

With police trying to find them in the dark, an unidentified motorist stopped to help, Reid said. Apparently stumbling on the edge of the barranca where Singer-Beilin's body was discovered, the man fell and broke his leg. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.

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