A longtime newspaper editor died Thursday in a fiery crash in Santa Ana triggered by a street race involving two other drivers, one of whom was hospitalized.
The collision occurred just before 11:45 a.m. at Bristol Street and Santa Clara Avenue, said Santa Ana Police Department Cpl. Anthony Bertagna. Eugene Harbrecht, 67, who worked at the OC Register and later the Southern California News Group for nearly four decades, died at a hospital.
The drivers of a BMW and Infinity were racing north on Bristol Street when the BMW slammed into a Ford F-150 pickup truck making a left turn on Santa Clara Avenue to southbound Bristol, Bertagna alleged.
The pickup skidded 60 to 70 feet into a wall and caught fire, he said.
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Two residents dashed out of their nearby home to help pull the driver out of the wreckage as a police officer on scene helped extinguish the blaze, Bertagna said.
"I right away knew it was a car accident, just based on the sound," said witness Guillermo Velazquez. "I was told that it was due to potential speed racing, and that's what makes it more frustrating, that it happened to someone innocent."
Harbrecht was rushed to UC Irvine Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The Santa Ana resident had worked at The Orange County Register since 1984, most recently as the national and international news editor for the Southern California News Group, according to the newspaper.
Keith Sharon, a friend and colleague, had the heartbreaking job of writing Harbrecht's obituary.
"It's hard for me to even accept that he died the way he did," Sharon said. "I thought it was my job to get some of his sense of humor and some of his passion into the story because the other details are so tragic."
The driver of the totaled BMW, identified as Louie Robert Villa, was also taken to a hospital with injuries of unknown severity, according to Bertagna, who said Villa was later arrested at the hospital for suspicion of felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
A witness provided police with license plate number of the Infinity and officers later arrested the driver, Ricardo Tolento Navarro of Santa Ana, and booked him at the Santa Ana jail for vehicular manslaughter, Bertagna said.