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HIGH SCHOOL IN MOURNING TWO HIGHLAND STUDENTS DEAD, 4 INJURED IN LEONA VALLEY CAR CRASH.

Byline: Greg Botonis and Karen Maeshiro Staff Writers

LEONA VALLEY - Highland High School students and staffers were stricken with grief after a crash left two students dead, a third near death and a fourth possibly paralyzed.

A Honda sedan, loaded with six teens after classes were let out early for back-to-school night, ran off a curve Thursday afternoon on winding two- lane Bouquet Canyon Road, plunging into a brush-filled ravine.

Alcohol was suspected to be a factor in the crash, the California Highway Patrol said in a statement.

``They were the type of kids who enjoyed being around a lot of people, and that's why they had such a tremendous impact on campus. These were the types of kids who enjoyed being around kids,'' Principal Pat Iaccino said Friday.

``We dealt with hundreds of kids today, just trying to deal with their emotional situation - and with our staff,'' she said.

Killed were driver Juan Carlos Rodriguez, 18, a Highland senior, and junior Priscilla Cifuentes, 15. Senior David Estrada, 17, was reported hospitalized and on life support Friday and sophomore Richard Skinner, 17, was feared to be paralyzed with a broken neck, school officials said.

Seventeen-year-olds Gregorio Canales and Adonte Medley, a former Highland student who now attends Desert Winds Continuation High School, survived with what CHP officers described as minor injuries. Medley was the only teen wearing a seat belt.

The four who were killed or most seriously injured had been thrown from the compact car as it overturned after running off the road.

CHP officials said the Honda had been heading north at about the 55 mph speed limit, traveling in the middle of a string of cars on the popular commuter route, when it went out of control at the end of a right-hand curve.

At the crash site Friday, 2 1/2 miles south of Elizabeth Lake Road, schoolmates erected a plywood memorial bearing a cross made of drumsticks and photocopied photos of the crash victims.

Counselors and psychologists from other schools were sent to Highland to help console hundreds of grieving students and teachers.

School officials said they had never seen anything quite like Friday's massive outpouring of grief.

``You walk into a class and half of the kids are crying,'' Antelope Valley Union High School District trustee Donita Winn said. ``There were kids in the gym, kids in the theater, kids in the commons area, kids in the bathrooms, just inconsolable.''

Many students left school early.

``My daughter was devastated,'' said parent Tom Cox, whose sobbing 16- year-old daughter, Kelly, called him at work to pick her up after learning of the deaths on her arrival at school. ``She knew one of the kids and said they were really close. I couldn't even tell who it was on the phone because of the way she was crying.''

Greg Botonis, (661) 267-7802

gregory.botonis(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1) Richard Skinner

Highland sophomore, 17

(2) Priscilla Cifuentes

Highland junior, 15

(3) David Estrada

Highland senior, 17
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 20, 2003
Words:504
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