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1 youth dies, 3 are hurt in street-racing crash

Unlicensed boy, 16, hits a light pole in Riverside with a car full of teens. Other vehicle is sought.

February 20, 2007|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

A 14-year-old boy was killed and three youths were critically injured in an impromptu street race in Riverside that ended when a car filled with teenagers slammed into a light pole late Sunday night.

Riverside police still had scant details late Monday about what led to the crash at Tyler Street and Eureka Drive, not far from Norte Vista High School, north of the Riverside Freeway.

Sometime Sunday night, eight youths coming from a party got into a Honda Accord driven by an unlicensed, 16-year-old boy who, police said, had borrowed his parents' car without permission.

As the driver headed north on Tyler Street, he began to race another car, witnesses told police. The contest took place at a spot where the northbound lane was wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side.

The Honda's driver, whom police did not identify, swerved into the southbound lane toward opposing traffic at about 100 mph.

The witnesses said the Honda's driver swerved to avoid an oncoming car and lost control, slamming into a concrete light pole and toppling it.

"It was like taking a pair of scissors and shearing it at the bottom -- and there is steel rebar at the bottom," said Sgt. Skip Showalter, who oversees the Riverside Police Department's program to combat street racing and who went to the accident scene Sunday night.

Only some of the Honda's occupants were wearing seat belts, and four were ejected. The injured were taken to hospitals, where two were on life support Monday evening.

One of the ejected passengers, Carlos U. Cisneros, 14, of Riverside, died from his injuries just before 8 a.m. at Riverside Community Hospital.

The three other victims, whom police also did not identify, are being treated at Riverside Community Hospital and Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley.

The Honda's driver, who had minor injuries, was arrested and booked at Riverside County Juvenile Hall on charges of illegal street racing. He could face vehicular manslaughter charges, said Riverside Police spokesman Steven Frasher.

Investigators were searching for the Honda's three other passengers, who fled, and the driver and occupants of the other car involved in the race.

The crash was another sign that impromptu street racing in the Inland Empire is increasing, Showalter said.

In recent years, he and other trainers have taught officers and deputies throughout the region how to spot and cite drivers of cars that have been modified for street racing. But this crackdown has pushed street racers into outlying areas with lower levels of enforcement.

"The impromptu racing is what's picking up," Showalter said, noting that Riverside officers generally make a couple of street-racing arrests each month. "This guy was not driving a car that was souped up for street racing.... This is just a family Honda Accord."

Showalter said there had been three fatalities related to street racing within a year in Riverside.

The most publicized was a crash in October in which a 16-year-old boy, who was allegedly racing a 17-year-old friend at more than 60 mph, lost control and drove onto the sidewalk on Olivewood Avenue. He killed a 36-year-old woman in a wheelchair who was on her way home. Her 14-year-old daughter witnessed the accident, police said.

Both boys were charged with vehicular manslaughter, and one will be tried as an adult.

"It's one of those things where constant vigilance is necessary," Frasher said. "If kids think they've got skills to push their cars to the limit, there are programs at the legitimate speedways for teen drivers to test their vehicles and see what it takes to blow their engines. Racing on city streets and racing with a car full of kids is beyond irresponsibility."

Times staff writer Francisco Vara-Orta contributed to this report.

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