Two college-aged Newport-Mesa men died in a car crash early Tuesday after the driver lost control, drove on the sidewalk, hit a tree, then ran head-on into a light pole, causing the car to flip and land on its roof, police said.
Authorities believe the accident is alcohol-related.
William Dunham, 21, of Costa Mesa, was in the front passenger seat and died instantly as a result of the impact with the large tree in the 2300 block of Placentia Avenue, police said. Carson Chirico, 22, driving Dunham’s car, was airlifted from the scene but died upon reaching UCI Medical Center in Orange, Costa Mesa Police Lt. John FitzPatrick said.
Costa Mesa fire crews arrived at 1:46 a.m. and used the jaws of life, as well as other rescue tools, to get Dunham and Chirico out of the badly damaged car, Battalion Chief Scott Broussard said.
Tyler Christie was ejected from the back seat of the silver, 2002 BMW sedan and found by Costa Mesa Fire Department crews. They took him to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where he remains in critical condition.
Chirico was a graduate of Corona del Mar High School and Paul Mitchell the School, for aspiring professional hair stylists.
Renee Tong, mourning her brother’s death at a memorial at the scene of the accident, said he was an outgoing, fun-loving and responsible man.
Chirico was the baby of six children, the only boy and the only one of all the children to come in harm’s way, she said.
“We all got together [Monday] night at Crystal Cove for my dad’s birthday and Carson showed up,” Tong said, holding back tears. “Usually, he wasn’t known to stop by but he showed up. It’s ironic.”
Family members of Dunham and Christie could not be reached.
The three young men were leaving the Detroit Bar on 19th Street in Costa Mesa, where, according to witnesses, the men had been drinking, Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Rich Allum said.
“We don’t have the toxicology reports yet but according to the witnesses at the bar, they had been drinking heavily,” Allum said.
Unopened beer cans, which had spilled from a 12-pack of Bud Light found in the wreckage, littered the street, each marked Tuesday with bright orange police markers.
“A number of alcoholic beverages were found at the scene, however, it is undetermined whether the driver or [the] passengers were impaired,” a department press release read.
Tong said it was not in her brother’s nature to drive under the influence. “Not in this family,” she said.
“If my brother was driving someone else’s car, then he was most likely the designated driver,” she said.
Police said the BMW 3-series sports sedan was headed north on Placentia Avenue, at about 80 mph in a 40-mph zone, when Chirico lost control of the car and drove over the curb and onto the front lawn of Costa Mesa Fire Department No. 4. The car continued northbound on the sidewalk for another 50 yards, FitzPatrick said.
The car first hit a cable box at the intersection of Placentia Avenue and City Yard, just across from Estancia High School, which landed another 50 yards up the sidewalk, Allum said.
The passenger side of the car then slammed into a large tree, instantly killing Dunham. Allum said the car then hit the light pole with such force that it ripped the large column out of the ground and at the same time flipped the four-door sedan onto its roof.
Christie was ejected, landing near the car, Broussard said, while Dunham and Chirico were trapped inside.
Orange County Supervising Dept. Coroner Cullen Ellinburgh said both men died “from the underlying cause of blunt force trauma.” His office is conducting toxicology reports on both men, but the results will not be available for weeks, he said.
Placentia Avenue was still blocked off at 10 a.m. Tuesday, as investigators worked to measure skid marks, gather evidence and clear the scene so the mangled car could be towed.
The shattered windshield was stained red and the contents of the car were strewn all over Placentia Avenue. Near the eastern gutter was a picture of a snowboarding trip that appeared to candidly capture a winter getaway. In contrast, a pair of board shorts and flip flops littered the road. Orange Coast College textbooks were strewn about, as were a carton of cigarettes, a lighter, tennis shoes, a datebook, more photographs of a group of smiling young women and a handful of 3-inch by 5-inch flashcards with vocabulary terms written on them.
On one of the cards was the word “hapless.” The definition: unfortunate, unlucky, ill fated.
The gruesome scene greeted Estancia High School students and faculty as they came to start another day. Asst. Principal Sean Boulton was one of many onlookers who curiously watched officers clean up. Boulton shook his head, saying it was one of the worst accident scenes he had ever seen.
“This is powerful for the kids though,” Boulton said referring to the lessons learned from unfortunate examples of drunken driving, “especially with prom and grad night coming up.”
A memorial service for Chirico is expected to be held Friday or Saturday at Our Lady Queen of Angels, Tong said, but the family has yet to confirm the time.