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Bodies of 2 teens found in apartment complex

Huntington Beach police are waiting for test results but suspect drugs and alcohol are involved.

January 25, 2011|By Nate Jackson and Michael Miller, Los Angeles Times
  • Bodies of two teenagers were found in this Huntington Beach apartment complex.
Bodies of two teenagers were found in this Huntington Beach apartment complex. (Don Bartletti/Los Angeles…)

The first inkling that something was wrong came when managers peered through a window at the upscale Huntington Beach apartment complex and called police.

The responding officers made a grim discovery when they entered the vacant unit late last week: The bodies of two teenagers sprawled on the floor.

Investigators were waiting Monday for toxicology reports to be completed, but the two youths appeared to have died from drug- and alcohol-related causes, said Lt. Russell Reinhart of the Huntington Beach Police Department.

Near the bodies was an empty can of Four Loko, a popular but controversial high-octane energy drink laced with caffeine and alcohol; the drink was recently banned in California. The beverage has also been banned in Utah, Michigan and New York.

Police were told that "there's somebody inside," Reinhart said, adding that the apartment complex's managers "didn't know if they were alive or deceased at the time."

The victims were identified as Aaron Saenz, 15, of Westminster and Chelsea Taylor, 16, of Huntington Beach, Orange County Deputy Coroner Mitchell Sigal told The Times.

Authorities said it was unclear how much Four Loko the teenagers may have consumed or what other substances they may have ingested.

Reinhart said officers found other indications of drug and alcohol use in the apartment, but he declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.

Aaron was described by a friend as a nice, fun-loving boy who recently moved to Huntington Beach.

"Whenever I would see him, he was always up for a good time," recalled Tiffany McNeil, 16, who said she attended Los Alisos Middle School with Aaron. "He never wanted anyone to be in a bad mood."

Known as "blackout in a can," Four Loko is a fruity caffeinated drink that contains 6% to 12% alcohol. The beverage, sold in a 23.5-ounce container, is equivalent to drinking about four beers plus a strong cup of coffee, health experts say.

Huntington Beach authorities said it was unclear how long the two teenagers' bodies had been lying in the apartment at the 227-unit Via Verde complex, which features townhouses surrounded by waterfalls, winding streams and shady trees.

The bodies were found in the former apartment of Aaron's father, who recently moved, said Claudia Lara, a Via Verde community manager. She said police rarely visit the upscale complex, near Golden West College and the Bella Terra shopping center.

Times staff writers Nicole Santa Cruz and Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.

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