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Death of USC student stuns campus

Police and relatives call on the public's help in locating the driver in the fatal hit-and-run accident in a busy intersection near the school.

March 31, 2009|Ari B. Bloomekatz

The death of a USC student and the critical injury of another in a violent hit-and-run accident left the urban campus reeling Monday as authorities and relatives called on the public for help in locating the driver and the badly damaged car.

"We need to find the vehicle," said LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese. "We need to find it quickly."

The accident, which occurred at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street at 3 a.m. Sunday, left Adrianna Bachan, 18, dead and Marcus Garfinkle, 19, clinging to life. According to witnesses, Garfinkle was carried about 500 feet on the vehicle's windshield before the driver stopped and a passenger removed him from the car. The vehicle then sped off.

At a Monday news conference, Bachan's mother, Carmen Bachan, held up pictures of her daughter and pleaded, "If anybody knows anything, I want them to help me."

Police say the driver had run a red light before the accident. Investigators and relatives said they were shocked by the cold behavior of the driver and passenger.

"The passenger got out of the car and threw the young man on the street after they destroyed my baby," Carmen Bachan said.

Albanese said investigators were looking for a black sedan -- possibly a Lexus, a Honda Accord or a Toyota Corolla -- that sustained heavy damage to its front end and a cracked windshield. Officers have already begun canvassing auto repair shops and have told employees to keep an eye out for the vehicle.

The intersection at Jefferson and Hoover is one of the busiest near USC. Scores of students walk, ride bicycles or skateboard across it each day, to and from class. It was far from deserted early Sunday morning when the two first-year students found themselves in the path of a speeding car.

Will Sturgeon, a 19-year-old freshman in environmental studies, said he was walking back to campus from a party when he hard a loud crash.

"We look over and we see this girl in the air and hitting the ground," he said. Sturgeon and others called authorities while a friend blocked traffic. Sturgeon and the friend flagged down a passing fire engine, he said.

Sturgeon said he thought the two students might have crossed the street outside of the crosswalk, because Bachan's body ended up about 15 yards away from it.

News of the accident quickly spread through the campus.

"A lot of people were talking about it on campus. It's in the Daily Trojan and it's all over people's Facebook" pages, said freshman Gieselle Allen, 19, who is studying screenwriting. "I just think it's sad."

Other students said it was difficult to fathom how the driver could speed off without helping the students.

"Everybody is pretty shocked," said Robert Hooks, 21, a senior who is studying political science.

"How do you just leave somebody on the side of the road like that?"

The daughter of a Croatian father and a Cuban mother, Bachan was born in Los Angeles. She grew up in Montecito and went to Santa Barbara High School, Carmen Bachan said. She said her daughter was an honors student and played soccer at the school.

Before Monday's news conference began, Carmen Bachan squeezed Albanese's hand as the officer tried to console her.

"Do you have children?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Think if they died!" Carmen Bachan said. "Think if they died!"

Kelly Wirht, chapter president of Bachan's sorority, Pi Beta Phi, said a candlelight vigil had been planned for Monday night. In a written statement, she said that everyone in the house "is saddened at the tragic loss of its sister."

"Adrianna was both an amazing woman and an outstanding member of our chapter," she said. "She will be greatly missed."

Michael Jackson, USC's vice president of student affairs, said university officials have been proactive in trying to cope with the heavy amount of pedestrian and vehicle traffic around campus and will install a light within the next few months at 28th and Hoover streets, where another student was struck and injured earlier this year.

Jackson said the Jefferson-Hoover intersection sees an enormous amount of pedestrian traffic because some 10,000 students live north of Jefferson Boulevard.

"Just imagine," he said. "That's a lot of people going back and forth."

Jackson said university officials have worked with the city to improve the intersection and that a new system was implemented within the last couple of years that allows pedestrians to cross at several points while all traffic is stopped.

He said officials are planning to reexamine the spot after Sunday's fatality, but that it's difficult to stop someone from running a red light.

--

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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