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Fatal crash came on teens’ Super Bowl Sunday snack run

Memorial tributes at scene of deaths of two girls continue Tuesday
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Safety concerns spur memorial move

More floral tributes, signs and crosses were placed Tuesday by the side of Auburn Folsom Road, at the scene of a crash Sunday that took the lives of Morgan Helman and Vivian Conner.

But officials and family members, concerned about pedestrian safety along the narrow road, are moving to transfer the memorials to locations at Newcastle Elementary and Del Oro High schools.

Some flowers had already been moved by Tuesday afternoon as more classmates drove to the site with more flowers and other tributes to the girls.

Newcastle Elementary Principal Kathleen Daugherty said the move of tributes has the support of the girls’ families, who are concerned about safety along Auburn Folsom Road.

Officer David Martinez of the California Highway Patrol said that pedestrians – as they should along any road – must consider their own safety. The section of Auburn Folsom Road where the crash occurred is just past a turn where motorists don’t have a view of pedestrians as they come around a curve, he said.

“The memorial is also going to distract drivers,” Martinez said. “It’s unfortunate that we lost two girls. We don’t want any more accidents.”

Underscoring the potential danger, a woman in her 70s was struck and killed Monday in Sacramento while crossing the street to bring flowers to a roadside vigil in North Sacramento for a traffic accident victim who died there Sunday. 

 

A Super Bowl Sunday party. Six kids in an SUV on a winding, narrow, downhill section of Auburn Folsom Road from Auburn with chocolate and marshmallows for S’mores.

And then it all went tragically wrong.

A 15-year-old passenger in the SUV when it crashed and a man whose family owns the pasture the vehicle came to rest in were still shaken Tuesday as they told of the events Sunday night that left two teens dead and a community in mourning.

Madison Bennetts, 16, said one of the two girls killed – 17-year-old Del Oro student Morgan Helman of Carmichael – was a best friend. Also killed was 13-year-old Vivian Conner, 13, a Newcastle resident and Newcastle Elementary School student.

Bennetts said the group of six teens was returning from an Auburn store to a home about a mile away, farther south off Auburn Folsom Road, with the snack ingredients. She was in the passenger seat and buckled in. The time was about 7:35 p.m.

The California Highway Patrol reported the 17-year-old male driver lost control and the SUV struck a guardrail, went through a fence and ended up on its side in a pasture. The two girls, who weren’t wearing safety belts, were pronounced dead at the scene. None of the other four suffered serious injuries, the Highway Patrol reported.

While Officer David Martinez said Tuesday that the Highway Patrol continues to investigate the crash and the cause, Bennetts said that the driver – who authorities are not identifying because he is a juvenile – saw something in the road that made him lose control of the Chevrolet Tahoe.

“We saw a deer and he tried to dodge it but then we hit the guardrail,” Bennetts said.

Bennetts and several more Del Oro High School students visited the crash site Tuesday. Helman was going to be on the school swim team and was active in church activities, including Woodleaf, a group of different youth groups from several churches, she said.

From across the pasture, Stanley West recalled Tuesday how he was watching the Super Bowl at his family’s home and heard a crash that sent him outside. There was about 1½ minutes left in a close game but West said that he was compelled to move toward a vehicle on its side that had landed in the front of the property’s pasture-land.

“I can’t tell you how many times my dad had to replace that fence,” West said. “Why does it continue? The Sheriff’s Office, Auburn Police and Highway Patrol do a great job here, showing a presence and trying to slow people down. But they can’t be there 24/7.”

What West saw in the next few minutes he said would be permanently imprinted on his memory for the rest of his life.

“They went to get a snack – marshmallows,” West said. “I saw the kids and they were in hysterics. They were just kids having a fun time – not drinking or partying.”

West said that looking inside the Tahoe was the most tragic thing he has ever seen. And then he watched as relatives of the dead girls arrived at the crash scene.

“If people could see the reaction of the family – to see it in their eyes – they would slow down,” West said. “It will be in my mind for the rest of my life.”

The Highway Patrol has reported that no alcohol was involved in the crash. Estimated speed at the time the vehicle left the road was a minimum of 45 mph, but the actual speed had not been determined, Martinez said.

The crash occurred just outside of Auburn, and south of Lees Lane. Martinez said the 17-year-old driver has a provisional license, which doesn’t allow him to carry teen passengers without an adult in the vehicle for the first year. The driver, an Auburn resident, was first issued a driver’s license four months ago, he said.

 

Safety concerns spur memorial move

More floral tributes, signs and crosses were placed Tuesday by the side of Auburn Folsom Road, at the scene of a crash Sunday that took the lives of Morgan Helman and Vivian Conner.

But officials and family members, concerned about pedestrian safety along the narrow road, are moving to transfer the memorials to locations at Newcastle Elementary and Del Oro High schools.

Some flowers had already been moved by Tuesday afternoon as more classmates drove to the site with more flowers and other tributes to the girls.

Newcastle Elementary Principal Kathleen Daugherty said the move of tributes has the support of the girls’ families, who are concerned about safety along Auburn Folsom Road.

Officer David Martinez of the California Highway Patrol said that pedestrians – as they should along any road – must consider their own safety. The section of Auburn Folsom Road where the crash occurred is just past a turn where motorists don’t have a view of pedestrians as they come around a curve, he said.

“The memorial is also going to distract drivers,” Martinez said. “It’s unfortunate that we lost two girls. We don’t want any more accidents.”

Underscoring the potential danger, a woman in her 70s was struck and killed Monday in Sacramento while crossing the street to bring flowers to a roadside vigil in North Sacramento for a traffic accident victim who died there Sunday.