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Thousand Oaks Teen Arrested in Fatality

August 26, 2004|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A Thousand Oaks teenager, who was issued a provisional driver's license last spring, has been arrested and may face felony charges in connection with a car crash last month that killed his 13-year-old passenger.

The 16-year-old driver, whose name was withheld because of his age, was speeding in a Ford F-150 truck when he lost control on a street in the North Ranch community July 10, authorities said. The truck rolled down an embankment, hit a pine tree and landed upside down.

Passenger Gregory Chase Arnett died at the scene. A second male passenger, who is 15, was hospitalized for several days with a broken right collarbone. The driver was treated at a hospital and released.

The truck was traveling east on Valley Spring Drive near Club View Drive at speeds up to 65 mph when it skidded off a curve, according to Sgt. Patti Salas of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

"What we have here is a high-performance vehicle being driven by an individual with limited driving experience," Salas said.

Salas said the teens were returning from a video store when the accident occurred about 10:15 p.m.

The driver, who received his provisional license May 3, was arrested and booked Aug. 19 on a single charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, Salas said. He was released that day into the custody of his father.

California law prohibits drivers under 18 from transporting passengers under 20 during the first six months after obtaining a license, unless a licensed driver 25 or older is in the passenger seat. They are also prohibited from operating a motor vehicle between midnight and 5 a.m. for the first year.

The charges against the teen driver could change when the district attorney's office files formal charges in about two weeks.

"I don't know how to describe how this has completely redefined our family," said Judi Arnett, mother of the boy who was killed. "We're a very close family. There's a big empty spot in our home."

She described Chase as a vibrant athlete with curly blond hair and blue eyes who would have been a freshman next month at Westlake High School where his two older sisters attend.

Arnett said her son was a talented surfer and snowboarder who had begun summer practice with the Westlake freshman water polo team. A memorial scholarship has been established at the school in his name, she said.

Arnett said she would work to toughen consequences for violating restrictions on provisional licenses, with a goal of reducing the number of teens riding in cars with inexperienced drivers.

"I would like to see that my son hasn't died in vain," Arnett said. "My son is gone and I'm just half the person I used to be."

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