A San Marino High School student died in a solo car crash near the Rose Bowl early Sunday morning after losing control of his vehicle while driving at an extraordinary rate of speed, Pasadena police said.
Brendan Leon, 17, who was nearing the end of his junior year at SMHS, died at the scene after the 2002 BMW 330 he was driving wrapped around a light pole, according to police.
“It was a horrendously impactful crash,” said Lt. Pete Hettema, who heads the Pasadena Police Department’s Traffic Section. “Debris went everywhere. It even started a fire from one of the tires that was under such heat it actually caught fire. … Based on skid marks, he was traveling at a high rate of speed. He started swerving and ended up hitting the light pole.”
It was not immediately known if Leon was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and police reported that there was no obvious evidence to that effect. A toxicology report is pending.
In a post to Pasadena Now’s Facebook page, Robert Leon insisted that his son had not been drinking. “Brendan went to a party among his high school friends — it was his birthday, and his friends said he was happy. There was no alcohol involved. At 12:30, he went with some friends to get something to eat, and was on his way home.”
Police said Brendan Leon was southbound on West Drive just before 3 a.m. when he lost control of the car and crashed at its intersection with Seco Street. The site is just steps away from the Rose Bowl’s south side.
“It appears that the car may have been in oncoming lanes at some point,” Hettema said. “Whether he was out of control at that point, we don’t know. It appeared that he was in oncoming lanes to make a left. The skid marks led into oncoming lanes in the curve coming at him.”
With evidence suggesting Leon was traveling at such an extreme rate of speed, police were initially concerned that he had been street racing, but there were eyewitnesses at the scene — people arriving early for the Rose Bowl Flea Market — who told police that only one car was involved.
In his Facebook post, Robert Leon cited the heavy weight of the car, saying it is “difficult to handle at a high rate of speed. He gunned it and lost control.”
Brendan Leon was a reserve linebacker on the San Marino High School football team last fall during its CIF championship season. School officials referred requests for comment to the San Marino Unified School District office, which emailed a joint statement by Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss and SMHS Principal Mary Johnson to district families on Monday afternoon.
“Our community is united in support for the Leon family,” it said. School psychologists, administrators and counselors “worked with the staff and students to assist anyone who was upset or affected by this tragedy,” the statement said, and gave parents advice on how to deal with their children’s grief.
Some of Leon’s football teammates posted comments on Twitter. JP Shohfi tweeted a photo that included Leon and wrote: “Feeling empty right now. I can’t believe it.” He subsequently wrote, “One of the hardest days I’ve been through.”
Chaz Davis tweeted, “We lost one great guy and an even better teammate.”
“In the Traffic Section, we seem to deal with that way too much,” Hettema said of the crash. “We’ve had six fatal collisions this year. They’re all tragedies, but this is as extreme as it gets (because of Leon’s age). Our officers have to make notifications to the family.
“It’s something that should never happen.”
Sports Editor Oscar Areliz contributed to this report.