Authorities on Sunday were trying to piece together the details of a fatal 10-car pileup in Newport Beach that began when a car veered into the opposing lanes of Pacific Coast Highway, then plowed into a string of vehicles and flew into the air.
Julie Allen, 27, of Newport Beach, the driver and a former Stanford University track standout, was killed instantly in the Saturday afternoon crash, as were Christopher De La Cruz, 49, of Laguna Niguel and Linda Burnett, 69, of Santa Ana, the occupants of one of the vehicles hit by Allen's Ford Taurus.
Newport Beach police, who said their preliminary investigation indicated that Allen was speeding, have yet to determine whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the collision, or whether Allen had become distracted before swerving into oncoming traffic.
Sunday, friends remembered Allen as a remarkable person and athlete. She was a state champion two-miler in high school, said Bill Sumner, her coach at Corona del Mar High School, which has one of the nation's top track and field programs.
Allen, a 5-foot-3 1/2-inch sparkplug, was a top student and earned a full athletic scholarship to Stanford.
"From the time that I first watched her run, I knew she was the type of person that you wanted to have on your team, whether it was your athletic team or your team in life," said Dena Evans, who coached cross-country at Stanford.
The violent crash occurred Saturday at 2:43 p.m. at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and an Orange County stretch of Pacific Coast Highway known as West Coast Highway.
Allen was driving a tan Taurus east on West Coast Highway at an "excessive" speed when the vehicle veered into the opposing lanes and struck a Toyota Prius and a white Taurus, said Lt. Bill Hartford of the Newport Beach Police Department. Allen's car then hit a Nissan Titan pickup and sideswiped a Toyota Tacoma pickup driven by De La Cruz. Burnett, a relative of De La Cruz, was his passenger.
After ramming into the Tacoma, Hartford said, Allen's car flipped into the air and landed in a southbound turn lane, hitting several other vehicles, including a motorcycle.
The motorcyclist was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana and was expected to recover from his injuries. Two others suffered lesser injuries and were treated at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.
West Coast Highway, a busy thoroughfare, was shut down for 10 hours and did not open until early Sunday.
Evans described Allen as "tough, positive, interested in others."
Allen took a year off before starting college and had trouble catching up with the demands of a top college track-and-field program, Evans said. But she persisted, becoming a solid performer and helping her team maintain national standing in cross-country. Allen also nearly qualified for the NCAA nationals in 10,000 meters.
After college, Evans said, Allen briefly enrolled as a graduate student at Stanford in education, before deciding to return home.
Friends said she was living with her parents in Newport Beach and had done some substitute teaching, possibly as a prelude to pursuing a career in education.
"She could swim in the ocean for two hours, run a marathon, go surfing and still have the energy to go to dinner with friends," said Josh Yelsey, a friend with whom Allen climbed Half Dome in Yosemite National Park last summer. "And then the next morning she'd get up and want to do it all again. She was the most can-do, let's-go person. She was a stud."
Allen also resumed running and competing through an adult running club managed by Sumner, her high school coach, who said he had difficulty associating Allen with anything tragic.
"She would light up a room when she entered it," he said.
Anyone with information about the accident can contact investigators at (949) 644-3747.
Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.