Friday, November 27 , 2015, 8:39 pm | Fair 45º

Teens Killed in Highway 101 Wreck Were Best Friends

By Carley Dryden and Rob Kuznia, Torrance Daily Breeze |

Two best friends from  a Torrance high school were among those killed Monday in a vehicle accident on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara.

Danielle Murillo

The seniors from North High School died along with a 20-year-old man from Los Angeles as they were returning home from a concert in Santa Maria. A fourth person was critically injured.

Danielle Murillo and Jessica Leffew, both 17, were seniors at North High. Also killed was Jessica’s boyfriend, Brian Adonay Lopez of Los Angeles.

All three were in a red 2005 Mazda traveling southbound on the highway near Castillo Street at about 12:45 a.m. when the vehicle veered right for unknown reasons and crashed into a guardrail, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The car flipped onto its roof and came to rest in the middle of the southbound freeway.

Moments later, a white 2013 Ford Mustang, also traveling on southbound 101, smashed into the car, ejecting two occupants, who both died.

The Mazda driver, 20-year-old Erick Hoel August of Los Angeles — Danielle’s boyfriend — suffered major injuries and reportedly was in critical condition at a hospital.

The driver of the Mustang, 52-year-old Kimberly Ann Kreis of Santa Barbara, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. She was treated for minor injuries to her chest, back and right knee, the CHP said.

The mood at the North High was somber on Monday. Teacher Julie Shankle said her room is across the hall from an office used by a grief counselor.

“I’ve had to close my door multiple times today because of the crying,” she said. “It’s been a very quiet day.”

Jessica Leffew

On Monday afternoon, students and family members filtered in and out of the home of Murillo’s mother, catty-corner from North High, offering condolences.

“She was really outgoing and positive. She always looked at the bright side of everything,” said Manuel Murillo, Danielle’s father. “It’s just crazy.”

Murillo said his daughter, who played soccer and participated in school plays, was planning to attend El Camino College and later a university and become a forensic psychologist.

Murillo, Leffew and their boyfriends had driven up to Santa Maria for a concert and were driving back home Sunday night, he said.

“Cheryl (Danielle’s mother) talked to her around 10. They were tired, but they were coming home,” Manuel Murillo said. “I guess her boyfriend fell asleep and lost control of the car and someone T-boned them.”

Murillo said he and Cheryl, who are divorced, were waiting to hear from their daughter, but she never showed up, and calls to her phone went unanswered. Then the police showed up at their door Monday morning.

Murillo said the family’s prayers are with August, his daughter’s boyfriend, who was in critical condition late Monday.

A North High student walked up to Murillo and gave him a hug.

“We’ll keep her spirit alive at school,” the student told him.

A group of students walking home from North High after school said they had been close friends with the girls since attending Magruder Middle School in Torrance.

Kouy Chhay, a senior, said Danielle loved to laugh.

“She really liked making people smile when they were down,” he said. “Whenever I’d see her, she’d always say hi and give me a hug, and then she would slap me, like messing around.”

The group of students said Jessica had planned to study nursing at the Southern California Regional Occupation Center — also known as SoCal ROC — in Torrance. Jessica had participated in JROTC during her sophomore year.

Ron Graham, the school’s JROTC instructor, said he remembers her as a well-mannered young lady who knew how to stick up for herself.

“If you stepped on her toe, she wouldn’t sock you, but she’d maybe say, ‘Hey, you stepped on my toe. How about an apology?’ ”

Graham remembers that, even after Jessica quit JROTC, she would address him in the hallway.

“Anytime she saw me she’d say, ‘Good morning, Sgt. Graham. How are you?’ ” he said.

A memorial for Leffew and Murillo will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the high school, where Principal Ron Richardson sent out a bulletin to families Monday.

“It is very difficult to lose a member of our community,” he wrote. “We are very heartbroken by the tragic loss of two of our students. We would like to extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families, teachers, classmates and friends.”

[Click here to read more from the Torrance Daily Breeze.]

Carley Dryden and Rob Kuznia are reporters at the Torrance Daily Breeze. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected] 

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