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Police believe racing caused crash that killed 3, injured 2

Residents say stretch of Colorado Blvd. is a popular speedway.

August 29, 2008|Tami Abdollah and Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writers

A stretch of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock has increasingly become a popular shopping district dotted with trendy eateries and neighborhood shops.

But residents say the boulevard's wide lanes have also attracted street racers and drivers who ignore the speed limit.

"It's known for speeders," said Mike Flores, 60. "In the two years I was there, all you could hear is all these cars flying by and brakes screeching. And every once in a while, one of them would lose control."

On Wednesday night, three people were killed, including a pregnant woman and her teenage sister, after their black Nissan Maxima was struck by another vehicle, slammed into a tree and burst into flames.

Authorities said the cars were driving at least 70 mph and appeared to be involved in a street race. In the wake of the crash, city officials vowed a new crackdown on speeders and street racers in the area.

Between 1994 and 2006, there were 286 accidents that resulted in injuries on the stretch of Colorado Boulevard roughly between the Glendale Freeway and Figueroa Street, according to a Times analysis of California Highway Patrol data. Of those, 108 accidents, or 38%, involved speeding violations.

Los Angeles Police Det. Felix Padilla, who is investigating the crash, said witnesses saw three cars speeding west on Colorado Boulevard when a Mitsubishi collided with the Nissan about 10:30 p.m. near Highland View Avenue, causing the Nissan to careen out of control and hit the tree. Police are searching for the third vehicle, described only as a "small white car."

Witnesses said the cars were traveling at "dangerous" speeds, about 70 mph in a 35 mph zone, Padilla said. "We're going by witness accounts that the cars were racing," he said.

Rostislav Shnayder, 19, of Eagle Rock, who was driving a white Mitsubishi Eclipse, was later arrested and booked on suspicion of murder in connection with the accident, police said. There was no indication that Shnayder was impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Killed in the Nissan were driver Cristyn Nicole Cordova, 19, and her sister Toni Marie Cordova, 16, both of Eagle Rock, police said. Jason Timothy Gomez Hernandez, 19, a family friend who was in the back seat, was ejected from the vehicle and killed instantly, police said.

Carlos Alberto Campos, Cordova's 19-year-old boyfriend and the unborn child's father, was riding in the front seat and also was thrown from the vehicle, police said. He has multiple fractures and is in critical condition at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.

Andrew Cordova, 15, the women's younger brother who was in the rear passenger-side seat, was also ejected and sustained multiple injuries and is listed in critical condition, officials said. Campos and Andrew Cordova both had limbs severed in the crash.

City officials said they are aware of speeding on the stretch of Colorado Boulevard between the Glendale and Ventura freeways, which funnel traffic onto the busy street.

About a year ago, Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Eagle Rock, said the LAPD had assigned a special task force to deal with speeding and street racing on the boulevard.

An increased presence of police officers seemed to help, he said. Earlier this year, the city synchronized traffic lights to slow motorists.

After Wednesday night's crash, police plan to reactivate the task force, Huizar said.

"It's the speeding that's the problem," he said, "and once in a while, like in the incident last night, we suspect maybe the individuals just started racing each other. But there's nothing to make us believe this was a planned race."

At nearby Eagle Rock High School on Thursday afternoon, students gathering to pick up their fall schedules could be seen crying and hugging one another as word spread about the accident.

Student Jessica Diaz, 17, said Toni was her best friend. She described her as caring and thoughtful of others, making cookies and cakes to mark her friends' birthdays and other special occasions.

"She was always happy," Jessica said before breaking down in sobs. "I miss her."

She said she knew Toni's sister and did not believe she was involved in street racing.

"I don't think so, especially because her sister was going to give birth next month," she said. "I don't think it was racing. If anything, it was the other two cars and they got in the middle of it."

At the crash site on Colorado Boulevard, five bouquets had been left directly under the bloodstain on the tree -- bunches of roses, sunflowers, lilies and carnations. Prayer candles were placed nearby.

On Wednesday night, John Chavez, 38, who lives near the crash site, said he heard a "loud thump" about 10:30, went outside and saw "blood and debris everywhere." He said he saw a "torso" in the street, a person on the pavement screaming for help, and a woman stuck in the twisted wreckage.

"It was the worst accident I've ever seen," Chavez said. "It was carnage."

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