CHP officials said Monday the agency is in the early stages of an investigation into the fiery crash that killed five Orange County teens, and it is too soon to determine what caused the 16-year-old driver to lose control of the car.
But it does appear speed may have played a factor, according to Assistant Chief John Antillon of the California Highway Patrol.
"Based on my experience of investigations, it does look like speed was a factor," said Antillon at a news conference Monday. "That's based on the vehicle colliding with the guard rail and where it ended up on the embankment of the freeway."
The driver of the car, the lone survivor, was unlicensed and did not have a permit, the CHP confirmed. It is unclear if charges could be filed against the teen, who was driving the older model BMW, which was registered to a family member.
The 1995 BMW was headed south on the 5 Freeway early Saturday morning when it struck a guardrail and the driver, identified as Bradley Morales, lost control. The car was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. Five passengers died, and Morales was transported to a local hospital.
Morales remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition at CHOC Children's at Mission Hospital with a large skull fracture and internal bleeding.
The victims, indentified by family and friends, were Matthew Melo, Alex Sotelo, Brandon Moreno, Jenny Campos and Jenny Bahena.
Campos was supposed to get a ride home from someone else that night, according to her mother, Aurora Barraza, who fought back tears at her Aliso Viejo home Monday. The girl told her mother an adult was driving them.
"It's hard to believe," said Luciano Garcia, Campos's stepfather. "We think she is still here."
Campos had just celebrated her Quinceanera in July and had been wearing her ring from the occassion, which is what helped authorites identify her, according to Campos' family friend.
"A heart with a 15 in the middle, and her name was on the ring," said Staci Marcus, whose son is married to Campos' sister.
"We just thought she stayed somewhere and we were going to find her and have a talk with her about coming home"
The Campos family said they had never heard of three of the three boys she was riding with.
Jennifer Bahena and Jenny Campos attended Laguna Hills High School.
"This is a very detailed investigation. It will take us a long time to get through this investigation," Capt. Joe Lundy of CHP's Santa Ana office said.
Drugs or alcohol do not appear to have been a factor in the crash, but authorities said more testing may need to be done.
Blood tests have been taken from Morales. The CHP said it's too soon to tell if he or his parents could face charges.
"I really don't want to speculate on what the parents knew or didn't know. All I know is that they've lost their children and our goal here is to try to determine what took place," said Antillon.
Students returned to Capistrano Unified School District, where the boys attended school, Monday, stunned by the news.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought it was just a nightmare you know. It's just like, they're gonna come back or something. They're just hurt," said Isabel Bahena.
Grief counselors were on hand to help classmates cope with the sudden loss.
"It's a very emotional time for us. These are students that we've known since elementary school and have established deep relationships with," said Dr. Jule Hatchel, assistant superintendent for the school district.
"This is a reminder for anyone involved, for parents to know who is driving their children to and from any event and for all of us to have a plan before we go somewhere," said Capt. Steve Concialdi with the Orange County Fire Authority.