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Girl, 2, dies in fiery accident on the 110 Freeway in Highland Park

Nearby residents tried to rescue girl trapped in a burning car but were unsuccessful. At least 4 people were injured, authorities said.

August 27, 2011|By Sam Quinones and Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • CHP and coroner investigators remove the body of a 2-year-old girl killed in a fiery collision on the southbound 110 Freeway north of York Boulevard in Highland Park.
CHP and coroner investigators remove the body of a 2-year-old girl killed… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

A 2-year-old girl died Friday in a multi-car accident on the 110 Freeway in Highland Park despite the efforts of her mother and neighborhood residents who tried to rescue the child from the burning wreckage.

According to the California Highway Patrol, a Nissan Altima and a GMC Yukon sport-utility vehicle collided about 5:30 p.m. in the southbound lanes of the freeway just north of York Boulevard. The curving section of three-lane highway is known for frequent accidents.

The impact caused the Altima carrying the little girl and her mother to burst into flames, which spread through the vehicle even as nearby residents rushed to fight the blaze with hoses, buckets and a fire extinguisher.

"You could hear the screams of the child. They were high-pitched and terrible. Then they stopped," said one witness, who ran out from his home after he heard the mother's cries for help.

Witnesses said motorists who stopped to look at the wreck did not get out to assist although they could hear the pleas of the mother.

"Everyone was sitting in their cars looking," said Jair Aguirre, 26, a community college student who lives next to the freeway. "I heard the lady screaming, 'My 2-year-old is in there! My 2-year-old is in there!'"

Aguirre said he tried to fight the flames with a garden hose as three other men from the neighborhood ran to the car with buckets and a fire extinguisher.

After their extinguisher didn't work, Aguirre said they tried to get to the girl by breaking open a window with a baseball bat. The men repeatedly reached into the back seat but were driven back and burned by the growing fire.

"You just felt helpless looking at that car in flames," Aguirre said.

After firefighters extinguished the blaze, the Altima was covered with a white sheet. The child's body remained in the charred interior awaiting the arrival of coroner's officials.

Authorities said at least four people were taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, including the girl's mother, the driver of the Yukon and two men who were burned during the rescue effort. None of the names of those involved have been released.

CHP Sgt. Manny Gill said that one of the people who tried to save the girl was an off-duty Los Angeles police officer.

The accident, which occurred in the middle of rush hour, caused traffic to back up for miles on both sides of the freeway. Only one of three lanes on the southbound side was reopened by Friday evening.

Some drivers caught on onramps made U-turns to head back to surface streets. Some already on the freeway went the wrong way down onramps to escape. And still others simply parked and left their vehicles on the roadway.

The scene was strewn with debris, including a woman's black high-heel shoe with a silver decoration and the would-be rescuers' abandoned fire extinguisher, which sat on the divider between the highway and the neighborhood.

"This is like a devil's curve," said Tania Sinquimani, who lives near the highway. "We see accidents here all the time."

About 20 yards south of Friday's crash site are the smoke stains from a memorial shrine marking the death of a motorcyclist killed in an earlier crash.

sam.quinones@latimes.com

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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