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O.C. Street Race Leaves One Man Dead, Two Girls Injured

After a meal, two friends took to the streets to race, officials say. Driver, 18, dies as his car flips.

September 27, 2006|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

A race through the hills of southern Orange County between two young men in expensive sports cars ended with one of them dead, the other arrested and two teenage girls critically injured, authorities said Tuesday.

The race lasted only a few minutes before Parees Ghassemian, 18, lost control of his 2004 BMW M3 while rounding a bend Monday night on La Paz Road in Laguna Hills, crashing into a water main and flipping his car. Ghassemian died almost immediately, and his two unidentified passengers, ages 17 and 18, were critically injured, said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino.

Arya Asgarynejad, 20, the driver of a 2002 Mercedes CLK55 who authorities say was racing Ghassemian, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and driving with gross negligence resulting in a death, Amormino said.

His passenger, also unidentified, was not arrested.

"This is just a total tragedy," said Bobby Banisad, 23, a friend of Ghassemian who said news of the accident was traveling quickly through Orange County's Persian community. "I mean we've all been there: 18 years old and you feel invincible," Banisad said. "Parees' motto was that he was bulletproof."

Amormino said all the people involved in the crash were friends. They challenged each other to the race after dinner at a restaurant in Aliso Viejo, he said.

The drivers then exceeded 90 mph as they traveled east on La Paz Road.

The cars traveled only a mile before Ghassemian crashed at the intersection of La Paz Road and Monte Vista, Amormino said.

Amir Dehbozorgi, 22, a UC Irvine student, said his close friend was a daredevil who had raced cars before.

He would have graduated from Aliso Niguel High School next year.

Ghassemian was a bodybuilder, Dehbozorgi said. He lived with his parents and two sisters in Laguna Niguel.

"He wanted to grow up and have a number of businesses under his belt so that he could enjoy life," Dehbozorgi said. "He already enjoyed life. He enjoyed it maybe a little too much."

Asgarynejad, an Irvine resident listed in Orange County Jail records as a clerk, was in the process of being released on $100,000 bond late Tuesday, with arraignment tentatively set for today.

Jeff Higbee, an Ontario Police Department corporal and regional director of the state's Street Racing Task Force, said the kind of drag racing popularized in the era of "American Graffiti" had become deadlier in recent years because of increased traffic.

"It used to be that you could go out in the middle of nowhere and conduct this kind of racing," Higbee said. "Now there isn't any middle of nowhere."

In 2005, nearly 8,000 drivers were cited for violating the state's street-racing ban -- a misdemeanor carrying a $1,260 fine.

Some local governments, including Los Angeles County, Riverside County and the city of Ontario, have also passed laws making it a misdemeanor even to be a spectator at a street race. And Ontario, where the activity is especially popular, has shut down some streets at night to discourage illegal racing.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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