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Actor was driving in fatal crash

Inquiry begins into why a Beverly Hills High student, who died, and 2 girls were in the SUV.

December 05, 2006|Erika Hayasaki, Richard Winton and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

Police and school officials Monday were investigating why three teenagers were riding with a TV actor when his Land Rover struck a tree Saturday, killing a 17-year-old Beverly Hills High School student and critically injuring the two others.

Lane Garrison, 26, a co-star of the Fox television drama "Prison Break," showed signs of "alcohol intoxication" when he was questioned by police, said Lt. Mitch McCann of the Beverly Hills Police Department. Alcohol containers were found inside the SUV, he said.

Garrison has not been arrested, and law enforcement sources said detectives are awaiting the results of the actor's blood test.

His lawyer, Harland Braun, said the actor "doesn't remember anything about the accident.... He thinks he was driving but he can't swear to it."

Police, however, put Garrison behind the wheel when he lost control of his SUV and crashed into a tree in the 300 block of South Beverly Drive.

The crash killed 17-year-old Vahagn Setian. Two 15-year-old girls who also were in the vehicle were taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. One has been released from the hospital and the other is in serious condition, officials said.

The girls do not attend Beverly Hills High, and authorities did not release information about them.

According to Braun, Garrison met the teens, who were fans, at a grocery store and accompanied them to a party, where he had one drink. About an hour later, the actor left the party to meet a female friend and the teens asked if they could go with him, Braun said. Garrison said yes.

The next thing Garrison recalled was waking up at Century City Doctors Hospital -- where he was treated for minor injuries -- with a taxicab voucher in his lap, Braun said.

"There is always the possibility that someone put something in the drink," Braun said, adding that the blood test would show that.

"We're still trying to figure out what happened," said the lawyer, adding that Garrison was having trouble with his vehicle's brakes and the SUV pulled to the right. He said police would examine the vehicle.

Garrison, who lives in Beverly Hills, was "despondent" and "overwhelmed" by the incident, Braun said.

Police said "the investigation into Mr. Garrison's impairment is ongoing."

"Mr. Garrison is not related to any one of the people in the car," McCann said.

Beverly Hills police brought in crash-scene investigators to try to reconstruct the accident. McCann said in such cases it usually takes six to eight weeks for some action on the incident.

On Monday, students arrived at Beverly Hills High wearing green, Setian's favorite color. The guitar player and former drama student was known for sporting a green Rastafarian-style beret.

With grief counselors on hand, school officials dismissed students early for a memorial at the crash site.

News about the crash spread quickly among students via text messages, e-mail and cellphones. By 3 p.m. Sunday, more than 100 students had locked hands around a candlelight memorial in Roxbury Park near the campus, where students placed flowers and cartons of Dunhills, Setian's favorite brand of cigarettes.

Juilan Wan, 16, said Setian was one of his best friends. The two boys had breakfast together on the day of the accident. Wan said that Setian knew he was leaving for Japan at the end of the month and gave him a rosary.

Wan recalled that Setian told him: "When we can't be together, this is how I want you to remember me."

"It felt like this was coming," Wan said. "Nothing was left unsaid. He knew he was one of my best friends."

Friends nicknamed Setian "Va Haagen-Dazs," like the ice cream. Wan said he did not know why Setian got into the car with Garrison on Saturday, but his half-Greek, half-Armenian friend always "lived for the moment."

Beverly Hills High student Katie Havard, 16, remembered when Setian had a crush on her a few years ago, and used to carry her picture in his wallet.

"He was friends with every group at our school," she said. "From the smart kids to the jocks to the stoners ... this has really brought us together. There wasn't a student at our school who was more universally loved."

Havard's mother, Melissa, said the tragedy reminds students that "your life is not infallible." She said she hopes this will lead to student discussions at school about drinking and driving.

"People are human and they make mistakes, especially teens," she said, adding that now is not the time to wag a finger at them. "Right now it's a time to give them love."

Student body president Josh Tucker, 17, said the campus was in shock and that teachers had a hard time conducting classes.

Setian was "one of those kids that everybody knows in the school," Tucker said. "Everyone has the same story" on the impact he had on their lives.

The school was reeling from the accident, said Myra Lurie, president of the Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education.

"We're all very sad," she said, adding that the community was baffled as to what Setian was doing in the SUV with the actor.

"Nobody knows. It's just very odd," she said. "We have no idea how it all transpired."

Garrison plays one of the escaped convicts on "Prison Break." In an interview with People magazine in May, Garrison said he once was a troubled teenager who turned his life around.

At 15, after a botched attempt to steal a jug of wine from a stranger's garage, he ran home, where, he said, "my mother just slapped the crap out of me. She drove me to the police station. The cops handcuffed me and put me in a cell to scare me."

Garrison was sentenced to community service and spent a lot of time mowing lawns.

He told People that when he was 17, he moved in with his family's minister, Joe Simpson, the father of pop singer and actress Jessica Simpson.

"I'm very grateful to him," he told the magazine, adding, "Jessica and I grew up together."

*

erika.hayasaki@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

Times staff writer Jean Guccione contributed to this report.

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