14-year-old at the wheel of fatal San Francisco crash


The Suzuki four-door sedan was traveling westbound on Ocean Avenue just before 1 a.m. As the car approached Junipero Serra Boulevard, it suddenly veered onto the sidewalk, hitting a light pole and taking down a small pine tree.

Five young men from the East Bay were in the car. The driver was too young to be behind the wheel.

"The driver was a 14-year-old; the front passenger an 18-year-old and in the back seat were two 18-year-olds and a 16-year-old sitting in the middle," San Francisco Police Department spokesperson Lt. Lyn Tomioka said.

The driver and the 18-year-old in the front seat walked away from the crash. The two 18-year-olds in the back, Jonathan Johnson of Castro Valley and Benjamin Powell of Hayward, were ejected from the sedan and died. The passenger in the middle has life threatening injuries. Police say those in the front seat were wearing their seatbelts; those in the back were not.

Tomioka says there is a lesson to be learned.

"This was a tragic event for the families involved, but there was the potential to save lives of these seat belts had been worn," she said.

The owner of a building near the crash site says the intersection is dangerous.

"People are coming too fast down Ocean," Brian Holl said. "A lot of them try to make a left hand turn and probably speed but I've seen people run into each other making this left hand turn."

Commodore Sloat Elementary School is just across the street. School staff say they have been working with officers from nearby Taraval Station to help parents drop off and pick up their kids safely. Still, Principal Jeanne Dowd says accidents continue to happen.

"Tuesday during our kindergarten tour we were in the auditorium and we heard a big accident occur here," she said.

Friends of Johnson spoke about their disbelief over his passing.

"He was a nice, outgoing guy and it's just a really big shock," student Kayla Steinorth said.

Students at Castro Valley High School still can't believe what happened early Thursday morning.

"It's horrible and we as a school district try to do everything we can to support the students and their families," Assistant School District Superintendant Sherri Beetz said.

Johnson graduated from Castro Valley in June after transferring there from Tracy last November. He immediately joined the drama class and made the wrestling team.

Jonathan's wrestling coach was one of the first to find out about the crash. He called school administrators, who then told teachers and guidance counselors.

"It was devastating to say the least. He was an outstanding student and certainly one of the people we'll miss a lot," drama teacher David Judson said.

"It's weird to think he's not here anymore. I've never had anyone close to me pass away before," former classmate Ricky Marasigan said.

Police say there is evidence the teens may have been drinking earlier in the evening. The driver has been charged with vehicular manslaughter. The 18-year-old sitting in the front seat has been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The car is owned by his father.

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