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Police seek reason fire victims were in garage

January 16, 2007|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Police canvassed a Tustin neighborhood Monday to try to find out why two youths who were killed by fast-moving garage fire early Sunday were in a minivan there.

Coroner's officials said they would have to use dental records to positively identify the youths, though police said it seemed clear they were two 14-year-old boys, one of whom lived next to the free-standing garage.

Neighbors said the two boys were familiar to them and that the garage in the complex of duplexes had become a popular teenage hangout.

"The autopsy is done, but the coroner is having some problem getting dental records here on time," said Tustin Police Sgt. Jeff Blair.

The teenagers were found in the van that was parked next to another vehicle after firefighters arrived at 2:23 a.m. Sunday to put the fire out. The cause of the fire has not been determined, and police said there was no foul play.

The fire in the 16500 block of Lorelei Lane destroyed part of the large garage.

What the youths were doing there, with temperatures in Southern California dipping into the 30s overnight, was unknown.

"We have heard some talk of the garage being known among neighborhood kids as a place where teens went to drink and smoke. Our investigators spent Monday interviewing neighborhood kids to find out," Blair said.

"What we sometimes find with children is that when they're asked directly, they usually didn't see it themselves but heard about it from another person."

Neighbors Albert and Rebecca Antolin said their son saw the two teenagers trying to get into one of their homes shortly after midnight. When they couldn't get in, they went into the garage and closed the door, they said.

Neighbors said one of the teens and his friends would hang out in the garage, often sleeping there.

"They were sleeping in there all the time," said Vanessa Caywood, who lives in the home with the clearest view of the garage.

"If he couldn't get into the house after staying out all night, he would just sleep in the garage," said John Lara, 14, a friend of the boy who lived next to the garage.

The parents of one of the teens told police Sunday that their son was missing and believed he had been in the garage.

The other teen's mother told police she believed the second body was that of her son. She declined to speak to a reporter.

On Monday, neighbors said the parents of the youth who lived close to the garage packed some clothes, took their six other children and left the house Sunday evening in a van.

"We're all shocked by what happened," said neighbor Camille Delos Santos, 19. "Why would a 14-year-old be out until 2 in the morning? He was just this shy teenager who would put out this image that everything was fine -- no problem."

Suraj Patel, whose family owns a local convenience store, said the youth, whom he had known over the years, was always taking care of his little sisters and brothers.

"He was this very shy, very polite kid who never caused any problem," Patel said.

david.reyes@latimes.com

Times staff writer William Heisel contributed to this report.

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