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Two teens die in crash
Driver was fleeing from traffic stop
Two teenagers in a vehicle speeding away from a traffic stop were killed Monday night when their vehicle went out of control and crashed into a large tree near the Barn Theater on Plano Street.
Killed in the horrific crash were the driver, Elias Vargas, Jr, 18 of Porterville, and his 15-year-old passenger, identified by a post on The Recorder’s Facebook page as Naomi Cortez. Another passenger, 18-year-old Bianka Ashley Romero who was in the front passenger seat, sustained a broken collar bone, broken femur, fractured vertebra and broken pelvis. She is being treated at Kaweah Delta Regional Medical Center and is expected to be released in the upcoming days.
Police say the crash occurred on Plano Street near Park Drive at 9:37 p.m. and did not involve a police pursuit.
According to police, an officer began to stop the sedan with four people inside for an illegal U-turn violation, but then the driver, identified as Juan Carlos Hernandez, 24 of Porterville, drove through the red light as he went southbound on Plano and Highway 190. The driver eventually stopped, but then ran from the officer and resisted arrest, said police spokesperson Officer Dominic Barteau.
Hernandez is being charged with driving under the influence and resisting arrest. He will face no charges connected to the collision, said Barteau.
While the officer was wrestling with the driver, the front seat passenger got into the driver’s seat, flipped a U-turn and sped away, going northbound on Plano Street. Barteau said no police officer chased the vehicle, but the driver drove north on Plano at an excessive speed and then the driver lost control where the roadway curves at Corona Avenue. The vehicle went out of control and rolled “multiple times” before colliding with a large tree in front of the theater, said police.
Barteau said officers have estimated the speed of the vehicle at the time the driver lost control at between 80 and 100 mph. He said the vehicle flipped for several hundred yards before colliding with the large tree.
The driver and the front seat passenger were both pinned in the vehicle. The back seat passenger, the 15-year-old, was ejected prior to the vehicle striking the tree, said Barteau.
The driver suffered major injuries and died at the scene. The 15-year-old suffered major injuries and CPR was begun, but she succumbed to her injuries shortly thereafter, said the PPD.
Barteau said police had contact in the past with the fatal driver. “We are very, very familiar with the driver of the car in the crash,” he said. The Porterville Police Department MAIT team (Major Accident Investigation Team) was called out to investigate the collision. Evidence at the scene indicated alcohol may have been a factor in this collision.
The investigation is on-going and anyone with any information regarding the collision is asked to contact Officer Carl Jordan at 782-7400.
The two people killed are the third and fourth traffic fatalities this year in the city. Only four fatalities occurred all of last year, three of those pedestrians. Only one of this year’s fatalities was a pedestrian.