Like so many other sports teams during the summer, cross-country athletes and staff from California Baptist University in Riverside packed their gear and loaded into vans early Monday for what was supposed to be a high-altitude training trip to Mammoth Lakes.
At around 8 p.m., a few minutes south of Bishop and perhaps an hour from their Mammoth destination, the trip ended in tragedy with a fiery three-vehicle crash that killed at least three persons, including a CBU coach, and injured as many as 16 others. The incident involved the van from California Baptist University in Riverside and an SUV, as well as another car.
Officer Dennis Cleland with the California Highway Patrol Officer said the van, one of a trio of vehicles from the college headed north on U.S. 395, was struck by an SUV traveling in the opposite direction that apparently lost control. The university vans were only a few miles from Bishop when a southbound SUV with five people inside drifted onto the shoulder, then veered back, overturned and rolled through the center divider, striking the van and bursting into flames, Cleland said.
A vehicle not far behind the vans also hit the flaming SUV. The driver of that car, an Oregon woman, sustained third-degree burns and an injured left arm, according to accident reports.
CBU officials said Tuesday that cheerleading coach Wendy Rice, 35, of Corona was killed in the crash.
Also killed were two people in the SUV, identified as Natalie Nield and Amanda Paige Post. The SUV had four Cathedral Catholic High School graduates from San Diego on board.
A deputy managed to pull one person from the burning SUV and went back for a second person screaming for help; however, the deputy was unable to render any further assistance due to extreme flames and heat, according to a CHP report. A third person, who was burned and hurled from the SUV, reportedly walked past the deputy then died on the pavement.
One student-athlete in the van, who suffered severe head injuries, and three other people in the SUV were listed as being in extremely critical condition. The SUV patients all were reported to have incurred severe burns.
At least three students had major injuries. Cleland identified them as Marissa Benson of Gresham, Ore.; Alicia Catamese of Corona; and Allissa Neimeyer of Temecula, who underwent surgery.
At least four students were treated for minor injuries at a nearby hospital and released. They were identified as Jennifer McGuire, 17, of Stevenson Ranch; Jonathan Monteon, 18, of Chino; Jonathan Hernandez, 18, of Moreno Valley, and Hanna Ingulsrud, 19, of Ontario.
The university was closed Tuesday and officials said a memorial service was being planned. Meanwhile, CBU cross-country runners arrived back in Riverside late Tuesday, reunited with family and friends. More than 100 people reportedly waited outside the gym to show support, showering the team with applause and hugs as they exited the vans.
At Cathedral Catholic, more than 200 faculty and students, parents, alumni and friends gathered Tuesday to mourn Nield and Post, praying and saying the rosary.
Funeral services for Rice, Nield and Post were pending at press time. –Sheet Staff/Valley News/Los Angeles Times/Associated Press