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					February 10, 2005




Teens cope with fatal wreck
By DONNA JONES
SENTINEL STAFF WRITER

WATSONVILLE — At age 18, Watsonville High School
senior Ana Mandujano came face to face with one of
life’s biggest heartaches: the death of a friend.
                                                         Watsonville High student Ana
                                                        Mandujano, 18, is trying to understand
It’s a loss she doesn’t understand.                     why her friend Tammy Uresti died in a
                                                        car accident Saturday. (Kate
                                                        Falconer/Sentinel)
Her friend and classmate, Tammy Uresti, died along
with her four passengers in an early morning car
crash Saturday on Highway 101.

While others — including the California Highway Patrol and the state Alcohol and
Beverage Control agency — investigate the circumstances of the wreck, grieving
young people have questions of their own.

Mandujano, who had known Uresti since they were both students at Rolling Hills
Middle School, described a girl with a perpetual smile, a friend you could count on to
lend an understanding ear, someone who was friendly to all and only wanted the
best for everybody. In short, Uresti was a good person, she said.

"I just want to know why. Why her? Why couldn’t it have been some gang-bangers
out there? Why did it have to be her?" Mandujano asked.

The easy answer is in a fatal lapse of judgment; the unlicensed Uresti, 17, got
behind the wheel of a friend’s car and made an illegal and unsafe U-turn. Hit by an
SUV, the Geo Prizm carrying Uresti and former Aptos High School students Julio
Prieto, 18, Matthew Escamilla, 18, Andrew Tibbitts, 19, and Evan Kuhn, 21, was
crushed. All five occupants died at the
scene.
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Authorities believe drinking may have
played a part in the wreck and are
waiting for toxicology results to be released in the next few weeks.

But that may be a conclusion some young people aren’t ready to hear. Some
students have expressed anger at reports linking the accident to drinking or the fact
that Uresti wasn’t a licensed driver.

"Just being in high school is such a challenge," said Audre Nelson, a Pajaro Valley
Prevention and Student Assistance counselor assigned to Aptos High School. "To
have this on top of it is very traumatic. The last thing (students) want is to hear
blame or pointing fingers at their friend who has died."
Santa Cruz County’s youth were floored by a similar tragedy in 1997 when three
young men from the San Lorenzo Valley were killed in an alcohol-related car accident
in Boulder Creek. All three were well-known in the community.

Uresti was also popular among the large student body at Watsonville High. The
young men who died alongside her had either graduated or attended Aptos High
School, and had many friends in Watsonville because they frequently skateboarded
at Ramsay Park.

Officials at both schools said students are working through their grief.

At Watsonville High, students are wearing photo badges had made in memory of
Uresti.

"It’s pretty somber," Assistant Principal Suzanne Smith said on Wednesday.

Right now, students are experiencing shock and disbelief, sadness and anger, fear
and guilt, said Nelson, the counselor.

"It’s not so much they feel responsible, but that maybe they could have done
something," Nelson said.

Separating their grief from the issues raised by the circumstances of the wreck will
take time, she said.

Parents of grieving students may have a little trouble separating the issues, too, and
may instinctually try to tighten the reins, she said. But they still need to give their
children a level of freedom so they can become self-sufficient.

Over the next few weeks, students may show their feelings with behavioral changes
as varied as sleeping more or breaking rules.

"My advice to parents is to listen, to just validate and affirm and make OK whatever
feelings their kids are having," Nelson said.

Her advice to students: "Keep talking, getting your feelings out, tell and retell any
stories you have around the incident, talk it out, write it out, get it expressed in a
healthy way."

Students are talking about the wreck’s underlying message about behavior, said
Watsonville High School senior Amanda Edwards, 18.

"Under the suffering and grief, it’s etched in the back of our minds," Edwards said.
"The last thing they want to do is go to a party."

But even if Uresti is to blame for the accident, Edwards said she still deserves to be
mourned and recognized for the person she was.

"She was very cheerful, very goofy, really just a decent person," Edwards said.
"I can’t think of anyone who didn’t like Tammy. She was honest and very faithful. ...
I feel very blessed to have known her."

Parents, students and community members looking for support in dealing with their
emotions can call Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance at 728-6445.

Contact Donna Jones at djones@santacruzsentinel.com.


ABC opens investigation into fatal crash
SENTINEL STAFF REPORT

The state Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control has launched a probe into the
wreck that claimed the lives of five area residents on Highway 101 early Saturday.

State investigators are looking to see if the minors killed in the wreck were drinking
at a party at a Monterey hotel before the fatal crash, and if so, who furnished the
alcohol.

The inquiry was launched at the request of the California Highway Patrol, which is
conducting its own investigation into the crash.

ABC spokesman John Carr said he couldn’t release details about the ongoing
investigation, but said a person convicted of supplying alcohol to anyone under 21
faces a $1,000 fine, 24 hours of community service and six months in jail. Penalties
for a business caught selling to minors range from a fine to revoking its license to
sell alcohol.

The investigation is being conducted under Target Responsibility for Alcohol
Connected Emergencies, or TRACE, a program started last year with the help of
federal funds.

So far, ABC has investigated 55 TRACE cases, involving 35 fatalities and 48 serious
injuries. All involved underage drinking.

				
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