Two 17-year-old boys were charged at a Los Angeles courthouse on Tuesday with vehicular manslaughter in the death of a pedestrian who was struck on Huntington Drive in what authorities said was a race between the pair of young drivers on Independence Day.
The teens, who have been released to their families and await their next court date, were arrested shortly after the crash on Thursday, July 4, that killed a San Gabriel man and his dog while they were jogging at about 10:35 a.m. in the parkway median dividing Huntington, police said. The drivers allegedly were racing on westbound Huntington when they collided, with one vehicle careening onto the median and striking Gabriel Crispo, 49, a teacher at Pasadena City College.
“We have some scientific data that needs to be completed for the traffic collision,” San Marino Police Chief John Incontro said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We’re using an accident reconstruction expert from another department who is reviewing the data and will give a final report.”
Crispo taught English as a second language at PCC and previously taught at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge. The Argentina native was said to be jogging with his longtime girlfriend and his dog, Nino, to LA Fitness in Pasadena that morning. Crispo’s girlfriend was unharmed.
Incontro said the suspects were driving a white Mercedes-Benz C-series sedan and a blue Toyota crossover through San Marino when they began to race, although he was still unsure where specifically the alleged face-off began. He said the Mercedes was driving in the No. 3 lane, the farthest to the right, while the Toyota was in the No. 1 lane, the farthest to the left. Witnesses told police that after the suspects passed an uninvolved motorist in the middle lane near the intersection with Winston Avenue, the Mercedes driver veered left across the lanes as if to try cutting off the Toyota driver.
Instead, the rear driver’s side of the Mercedes collided with the front passenger side of the Toyota, Incontro said, effectively causing a Pursuit Intervention Technique, or PIT maneuver, used in police chases. The Mercedes began to spin as the drivers neared Kenilworth Avenue, “almost right in front” of San Marino Security Systems, he added.
“As it was spinning,” Incontro said of the Mercedes, “it went up over the median and struck the pedestrian and his dog. The impact caused them to fly into the eastbound lanes” of Huntington Drive.
The Mercedes also landed in eastbound Huntington, where the driver stopped; the Toyota’s driver pulled over in front of the nearby Wells Fargo bank. Because the suspects are juveniles, their names were not made public. Incontro said they are still in high school and are not from San Marino, “but they do live nearby.”
A third teenager who was accompanying them in a separate vehicle also pulled over and was interviewed by police, Incontro said, but he is not believed to have participated in the apparent race and was released. Although the collision occurred almost simultaneously with Thursday’s 6.4-magnitude foreshock earthquake originating near Ridgecrest and felt throughout Southern California, Incontro said there was no reason to think it factored into the crash.
None of San Marino’s Fourth of July festivities were affected by the collision or the response to it.
Around 100 people gathered Friday evening for a candlelight vigil for Crispo, who was known by friends as a world traveler and dedicated gym-goer. The vigil attendees included a sizable contingent of fellow LA Fitness members among Crispo’s friends and colleagues.
“He was one of the happiest, most lovable people
you’ll ever meet,” a friend, Jeremiah Snyder, told KTLA Channel 5.
Alex Boekelheide, executive director of strategic communications and marketing at PCC, said in a statement that the college community at large was saddened by the death of Crispo, who was an adjunct instructor in the school’s noncredit ESL department for 18 years.
“As an individual with energy, passion and a true joy of life, Gabriel would always greet you with a genuine ‘Hello’ whenever he saw you,” Boekelheide’s statement added. “He was deeply committed
to his students and his colleagues. The college community is coming together to provide support to those who need it during this difficult time.”
The tragedy drew a severe response from San Marino’s typically reticent mayor, Dr. Steven Huang, who lamented that Fourth of July will now be marred by this memory for all friends and family involved.
“This was not an accident, but an act where two people decided it was right to race down our city streets, streets that do not usually see this type of behavior,” Huang said in a statement. “San Marino is a community known for our quiet streets and excellent schools, not an area for street racing and side shows.”
Huang added that he has directed the Police Department to plan additional traffic enforcement details along Huntington Drive to target excessive speeding and also to develop a traffic education program for residents and students.
“Our community will not accept this type of incident and I am working with our city manager along with our Public Safety Commission to develop a traffic safety plan for San Marino,” the mayor said. “The city manager will direct our various city departments, including the police and public works, to develop a strategy to ensure this type of incident will not reoccur in San Marino.”
Father Tony Marti, president of St. Francis, said Crispo taught at the school from 2010-2013.
“Mr. Crispo was a happy man, with a positive attitude and always enthusiastic about his teaching job,” a statement by Marti read. “He was highly respected by the other members of the faculty and by the students he taught. Mr. Crispo was proud of his students’ achievements. We will miss him and pray for the repose of his soul and for the consolation of his family and friends.”
Incontro said he has become too familiar with this type of reckless incident during his law enforcement career.
“I’ve seen way too much of it,” he said. “I’ve seen just the devastation of losing such a productive and well-liked human being. He was so vibrant and had a great connection with the community. The juveniles, they now have to live with that for the rest of their lives. It’s just a horrific thing and something that did not have to happen.”