Grandview in mourning after crash that killed 2 students

By Ty Beaver and Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 10, 2013 

GRANDVIEW -- Demetrio Castaneda was one of dozens to visit where his 16-year-old friend Carlos Ochoa died Tuesday night.

Cars full of mourners stretched along Evans Road north of Grandview on Wednesday as people from throughout the community came by to see where Carlos and fellow student Kevin Lopez-Gonzales were killed in a car wreck Tuesday night.

Flowers were set at the base of one of the trees at the site, which was littered with latex gloves from emergency responders and contents from the car.

"(Carlos) was a really cool guy," the 16-year-old Grandview High School sophomore told the Herald. "I can't believe it happened."

Kevin and Carlos, both 16 and juniors at Grandview High, were passengers in the Dodge Neon SRT Turbo driven by 17-year-old senior Jovannie Razo. Jovannie was listed in critical condition Wednesday afternoon at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

Students at the crash site said the boys were headed to Gravity Hill,, a popular hangout near Prosser, when the crash happened about 6:20 p.m. just east of the Yakima-Benton county border.

Benton County sheriff's deputies are investigating the wreck. Friday, they plan to work with Washington State Patrol troopers to reconstruct what happened, including trying to determine how fast the car was going.

The initial investigation shows the car was going well over the speed limit, said Benton County sheriff's Lt. Chuck Jones. The speed on the straight stretch of the road is 35 mph and 20 mph at the curve, said Steve Becken, Benton County public works director.

The teen passed another carload of teens "at an extremely high rate of speed" shortly before he missed a curve on Evans Road and lost control, Jones said. The car rolled end over end several times before landing in a cluster of trees.

Kevin died at the scene and Carlos died at Kadlec. Autopsies are not being performed, but standard toxicology tests are planned for both boys, said Benton County Coroner John Hansens. It typically takes up to eight weeks to get results.

Grandview High School Principal Mike Closner said staff met about the crash before classes started Wednesday. More counselors were brought in from the community and from other district schools to help students and staff who are dealing with the loss of the students.

"We're a small school, so all our students are fairly well connected," Closner said.

He described Jovannie, Kevin and Carlos as good students. Carlos was a wrestler and track and cross country athlete who was a gifted artist and practical joker. Kevin was good at woodcraft.

"(Kevin) had a great laugh," Closner said.

Demetrio described the school as sorrowful and subdued Wednesday. There was a moment of silence before classes.

Demetrio said he was excused from classes most of the day, allowing him to make several trips out to the crash site with others.

"Everybody is just sad," he said. "In first period, the teacher cried pretty hard."

Although deputies get reports about teens drag racing on rural county roads, Jones said it's typically not in the area where Tuesday's crash happened.

"We have nothing to believe that it was drag racing," he told the Herald.

There's also no indication that alcohol is involved, Jones said.

The Neon was so heavily damaged that investigators still are trying to determine if the teens were wearing seat belts.

"It was such a high velocity-type impact, we don't know," he said.

Firefighters also had to cut the teens out of the wreckage, so part of the challenge is figuring out what damage was caused by the crash and what happened during the rescue.

Ray Smasne, who lives just west of the curve where the crash happened, told the Herald that he saw Jovannie drive by Tuesday night. He said the Neon looked and sounded like it was speeding but he didn't think anyone was drag racing, but others do.

"They come out here and race a lot. It's not just here, you can hear it a mile away," Smasne said.

He said law enforcement officers patrol the area but they can only do so much to get drivers to slow down.

Services for Carlos, whose parents are Enrique and Leticia Ochoa, are planned Monday. Mass is at 10 a.m. Monday at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Grandview, with burial to follow at Grandview Cemetery.

Visitation is noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at Smith Funeral Home in Grandview.

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