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. Advertisement 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.