Daniel Carrillo, 18, told investigators his brakes failed before Wednesday’s accident outside Hemet High School, where he is also a student, California Highway Patrol spokesman Darren Meyer said.
The CHP’s Major Accident Investigation Team will go over the 1994 white Ford Ranger with “a fine tooth comb,” Meyer said.
“That will either show evidence — or rule out — any … claims of mechanical failure,” Meyer said.
Results may not be available until late next week. The case would then be forwarded to the district attorney’s office to determine whether charges should be filed against the driver, he said.
Drugs and alcohol were not a factor, he said.
Parent Jamie Dover witnessed the accident that injured her son, Melvin Smith, and the chaotic aftermath. She was in her car waiting to pick up her son when she saw the teen “driving way too fast and there was not any apparent attempt at braking.”
“I saw the truck go west very fast approaching the cross walk and heard the horrible sound of him hitting the kids. I did see two of the kids fly through the air. It got quiet for about three seconds and then everyone started rushing toward the scene and a lot of the students were screaming,” Dover said in an email.
Video of the crash was captured on seven cameras outside the school and was being reviewed by investigators.
Officers were in front of the school Thursday constructing diagrams of the intersection to reconstruct the scene.
The accident occurred Wednesday after school when the pickup driven by Carrillo, an 18-year-old 11th-grader, entered the intersection at Stetson Avenue and Bulldog Way exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, the CHP said. His twin brother and a friend were riding in the truck.
About 30 students were crossing Stetson Avenue at the signal.
Initially, officials said nine people were hospitalized, including a 60-year-old woman, but have determined that no adults were injured.
The most seriously injured students were Helen Richardson and Yesenia Estrada, both 15, who were in critical condition Thursday. They suffered head injuries when the truck rolled over them.
Melvin Smith, 15, and his girlfriend, Shila Gracia,16, were released from the hospital Wednesday evening with bruises and minor abrasions, Dover said.
Smith told her he was struck by the right front of the truck and may have been propelled into Gracia, pushing them both to the ground. Smith had leg, side and neck pain and was suffering anxiety, she added.
“Both kids are still stunned,” Dover said. “It was horrific.”
Dover said she has seen students hanging from moving vehicles, riding bikes between moving cars and driving their trucks over concrete curbs in parking spots.
“Pretty crazy stuff and amazing no one has been hurt until yesterday. I guess I should have complained to the principal a long time ago,” she said.
Katie Fernandes, 17, the daughter of Hemet High activities director Al Fernandes, also was released from the hospital.
“She’s home, she’s alive, she’s bruised and sore,” Al Fernandes said.
Information was not available for the other injured students: Anthony Aranda, 16, Kimberly Barrera, 16, and Vivian Anguiano, 15.
Hemet High principal Emily Shaw said five crisis counselors were at the school Thursday and many students were taking advantage of them to discuss their feelings after the crash.
School district officials said the crosswalk design at Hemet High is among the best in the region. A fence dividing the east and west lanes along Stetson is also in place so students can cross only at the light and not mid-block.
Short of building a bridge across Stetson, there is little the district could do to improve safety, said Lucy Rebuck, risk management director for Hemet Unified.
The length of time for students to cross is also longer than most standard crossing areas, and campus staff supervise the area before and after classes, Principal Shaw said.
“We did what we could do,” Shaw said. “It was just a very unfortunate accident.”
Opinions on the safety of the crossing area were mixed Thursday among students, parents and traffic experts.
Some of the school’s efforts, notably the fence, might be counter-productive, said Ryan Wiggins, Southern California field organizer for Transportation For America, a national group lobbying for more investment in local streets and roads to improve safety.
Despite speed limits, fencing off the road so that Stetson becomes a long, straight section might give drivers the false impression that they can go faster, Wiggins said
Student Alberto Burgueno said he felt safe and the level of supervision is high. He said many students won't cross if the timer on the light is winding down.
Parent Melinah Arthur said the student lot should be attached to the school and the staff lot across Stetson. Many students cross the street mid-day to get to PE classes near the football stadium, often doing so in small groups.
“This is not safe in any kind of way,” Arthur said. “They are teenagers, not adults. They still need supervision.”
Another parent, Walter Campion, said he called the school recently to complain about the way students were driving around the campus parking lots. He said his concerns fell on deaf ears.
“Five days after I called, this came to pass,” Campion said. “I made an effort to say ‘Get more people out here as a deterrent.’”
Recent studies show that new drivers pose a greater risk. Earlier this month, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study that found the odds of a driver age 16 or 17 being killed in a car crash doubles when two other teens and no adults are in the vehicle.
Staff writers Janet Zimmerman and Dug Begley contributed to this report.