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Local News

Street Racing Blamed for Fatal Crash in Santa Maria; Second Driver Arrested

Family, friends unite at Waller Park to record memories of Breanna Rodriguez for video she wanted to make against reckless driving

Mourners gather around a makeshift memorial on East Donovan Road in Santa Maria on Saturday. A Righetti High School senior driving a car full of teenagers died of her injuries after the vehicle hit a light pole Friday night. Click to view larger
Mourners gather around a makeshift memorial on East Donovan Road in Santa Maria on Saturday. A Righetti High School senior driving a car full of teenagers died of her injuries after the vehicle hit a light pole Friday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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A 17-year-old girl who died following a crash in northeast Santa Maria on Friday night allegedly was street racing with another vehicle, whose driver has been arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and vehicular manslaughter charges.

Breanna Rodriguez, 17, of Santa Maria, was a senior at Righetti High School who had hoped to travel to Uganda after graduation. 'Her heart was that if anybody had to hurt, let it be her,' says her pastor, J.R. Reyes of Full Gospel Tabernacle of Nipomo. 'She loved putting others before herself. ... That was her heart’s desire.' (Full Gospel Tabernacle of Nipomo photo)
Breanna Rodriguez, 17, of Santa Maria, was a senior at Righetti High School who had hoped to travel to Uganda after graduation. “Her heart was that if anybody had to hurt, let it be her,” says her pastor, J.R. Reyes of Full Gospel Tabernacle of Nipomo. “She loved putting others before herself. ... That was her heart’s desire.” (Full Gospel Tabernacle of Nipomo photo)

Santa Maria police said the 17-old-boy who was driving the second vehicle was arrested at 7:45 p.m. Saturday.

The girl, identified by friends as Breanna Rodriguez, died after she was critically injured when the car she was driving crashed into a utility pole on East Donovan Road near Suey Crossing Road just before 9 p.m. Friday.

Five teenagers were in the car when it crashed, with two trapped in the wreckage and requiring extensive extrication by firefighters.

Rodriguez was airlifted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, but succumbed to her injuries.

Police Sgt. Steve Lopez said the group was believed to have been coming from a basketball game at nearby Pioneer Valley High School

A 17-year-old boy driving the second vehicle briefly stopped after the wreck, and then fled the scene prior to the arrival of police, Sgt. Mark Streker said in a statement Saturday night.

“Even though the two vehicles did not collide with each other, the law requires all involved parties to remain at the scene,” he said.

The boy, whose name wasn’t released due to his age, was booked into Santa Maria Juvenile Hall.

“Furthermore, it was determined that the excessive speeds during the race by both drivers, and failure to stop at a stop sign by the deceased driver, were significant factors in this collision,” Streker said.

“Whether alcohol or drugs were a factor is still under investigation.”

At the crash site Saturday, flowers, balloons, candles and cards made up a memorial to the victim as glass from the wreckage remained strewn along the side of the street.

People, both strangers and those who knew Rodriguez, periodically stopped throughout the day to pay their respects as drivers on Donovan slowed down while driving by the scene.

Saturday night, friends gathered there to hold a candlelight vigil.

While police have not identified the crash victims, friends began posting on social media Saturday morning, saying the dead driver was Rodriguez, a senior at Righetti High School and a former candidate for homecoming queen.

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District said counseling services would be available to students and staff Monday.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” Superintendent Mark Richardson said in a statement.

Rodriguez reportedly was working on a video to remind people to drive responsibly, and friend Nikolas Koyama invited those who knew her to record farewell messages Saturday afternoon at Waller Park.

“This way ... our project can finally be completed, and people might finally feel the harm of driving recklessly,” Koyama said in a Facebook post.

“Thank you all for joining and saying farewell to a beautiful person & soul. I will miss her,” he added.

Around 60 people, mostly teenagers dressed in black, gathered at the park’s Lakeside Terrace, where Koyama set up a video camera and table on a small hill to record memories about his friend.

In addition to wearing black, at least two people showed up wearing shirts saying, “RIP Bree the G” with a picture of Rodriguez.

One by one volunteers sat in a chair in front of the camera to share their memories, sometimes becoming emotional.

“This is against reckless driving,” Koyama said during a break from filming. “It’s my way to finish the project we were working on.”

Koyama, who graduated from Righetti two years ago, recalled Rodriguez as being “pure positive,” outgoing and beautiful.

Rodriguez’s pastor, J.R. Reyes of Full Gospel Tabernacle of Nipomo, consoled her family and friends mingling at Waller Park.

Reyes also took a turn in front of the camera to share his feelings. He said he remembers Rodriguez for  “love — bottom line, love.”

He said the girl had scripture verses in her room, and routinely asked the pastor if someone needed prayers.

“She was a very spiritual person,” Reyes added. “She just generally loved people.”

Rodriguez had planned to travel to Uganda this summer, he said.

“She wanted to do a whole lot of traveling,” he said. “She wanted to go to Africa. She definitely had her heart set on travel.”

In a Twitter post two days before her death, Rodriguez urged friends to support a flower fundraiser to raise money for her trip.

“One thing she would always say in conversations about the future is she would always say, ‘Lord willing,’” Reyes recalled.

Rodriguez’s body apparently bore the full impact from the crash, representing, according to Reyes, her generous spirit and faith.

“Her heart was that if anybody had to hurt, let it be her,” he said. “She loved putting others before herself. ... That was her heart’s desire.

“If anybody in the car was going to go, I could see her stepping up and saying, ‘God, take me.’”

Funeral arrangements were pending Saturday night.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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