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4 killed in fiery plunge off Calif. road

The driver was trying to pass another vehicle and lost control; people who heard screams and saw flames gathered at a bridge above the horrific scene

By Doug Saunders and Melissa Pinion-Whitt
San Bernardino County Sun

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. —The sound of screams erupted from a flaming vehicle that had plunged 20 feet to the bottom of a concrete channel Thursday night near San Bernardino.

The small crowd that gathered by the Fifth Street bridge stood by helplessly, not knowing what to do.

“I heard the screaming and I started crying because you couldn’t do anything,” said Rose Estrada of San Bernardino. “People started running back and forth.”

Two women remained in the vehicle and two had been thrown from the car after the driver, who authorities say was speeding, lost control of a 1997 Toyota Camry east of Cooley Avenue around 8:30 p.m. and crashed through a metal barrier to the wash below.

Three were pronounced dead at the scene and the fourth died at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.

The San Bernardino County Coroner’s Department identified three of the victims as Germany Brizick Lee Willis, 24, and Kristy Marie Orti-Medina, 36, both of Highland, and Joy Terri Doss, 24, of San Bernardino. The fourth victim remained unidentified.

The California Highway Patrol said the driver was trying to pass a vehicle in front of her when she lost control of the car. It is unknown if alcohol or drugs were a factor.

The westbound vehicle spun around 90 to 110 degrees, crossed into oncoming traffic and veered off the road, hitting a bridge rail. The impact threw the driver and a back-seat passenger out of the car.

It was a horrific scene that continued to draw onlookers Friday morning, including people whose loved ones didn’t come home Thursday night.

“Someone called me and said go and check,” said Will Bradley, who suspected his friend’s cousin was among the victims.

He realized she wasn’t because the cousin was in a sport-utility vehicle, but the remains of the crash still shook him.

“That is just horrible for them to be burned like that,” he said.

Another family came to the scene and spotted clothing in the channel that they believed belonged to a relative. A woman who didn’t identity herself told one of the spectators, “She was my little sister, and she just had a baby.”

Vanessa Sandoval, who lives nearby, said she was driving by Thursday night when she saw the glow of the fire. She stopped and watched as the car burned.

“You can’t help them, so you don’t know what to do,” she said.

Estrada, another nearby resident, said the glowing light also drew her to the scene.

“It was just bright flames. I didn’t know what it was at first,” she said.

Glass and fragments from the car littered Fifth Street and the wash. Mangled pieces of the metal barrier lay beside blackened remains of the vehicle, pieces of clothing and other items.

County workers had placed a temporary chain-link fence where the barrier was missing and marked the area with cones and signs.

Police and news vans could be seen from neighboring Anderson School, which serves students with physical and intellectual disabilities, as they celebrated their annual Special Olympics-style event.

“It’s such a sad combination to have them right there,” said Principal Avis Stuart-Board. “The good thing is the students don’t know what it means, but it’s such a sad thing.”

Staff writer Ryan Hagen contributed to this report.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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