Del Oro, Newcastle Elementary students killed in SUV crash near Auburn

CHP: Teen driver wasn't licensed to transport other teens alone
By: Gus Thomson, Joyia Emard, Journal and Gold Country Media writers
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Provisional license

When: First 12 months after license issued

What: Licensee may not do any of the following unless accompanied and supervised by a licensed driver who is the licensees’s parent or guardian, a licensed driver who is 25 years of age or older, or a licensed or certified driving instructor:

Drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Transport passengers who are under 20 years of age.         

Source: California Highway Patrol


Two teenage girls were killed when the sport utility vehicle they were riding in left Auburn Folsom Road and overturned Sunday night.

The girls – ages 13 and 17 – were pronounced dead at the scene of the single-vehicle crash, which was reported at 7:35 p.m., the California Highway Patrol said.

They were identified by the Highway Patrol as Vivian Conner, 13, of Newcastle, and Morgan Helman, 17, of Carmichael.

By late afternoon Monday, roses were being placed on the mangled steel of a guardrail the SUV struck on its out-of-control crash into a pasture.

Classmates and friends of the two girls made the afterschool journey to the crash site to place bouquets, shed tears and remember.

Helman’s Del Oro High classmate Gerhard Tuerberg, 17, said she was one of the most upbeat people he had ever known.

 “She was friends with everyone – an all-around beautiful girl,” Tuerberg said.

Abbie Holt, an eighth grade classmate of Conner’s at Newcastle Elementary School, said she was the type of person who was full of life and could make anyone laugh.

Holt and her twin sister, Sophie, were among dozens of people who drove to the crash location to leave tributes to the two girls. 

Highway Patrol Officer David Martinez said that the 17-year-old male driver has a provisional license, which doesn’t allow him to carry teen passengers without an adult in the vehicle for the first year. The driver, an Auburn resident, was issued a driver’s license four months ago, he said.

Besides the driver and two girls who were killed, Martinez said there were three other passengers – one male and two females, ranging in age from 13 to 17.

While not releasing full information on where the occupants were from, Martinez said that all but Helman were from Placer County.

No alcohol was apparently involved and all but the two girls killed in the crash were wearing safety restraints, the Highway Patrol reported. Estimated speed at the time the vehicle left the road was a minimum of 45 mph, but actual speed was still unknown, Martinez said.

The accident was still under investigation, he said.

The four occupants who survived suffered complaints of pain that were categorized as minor to moderate injuries, Martinez said. A 16-year-old girl was transported to Sutter Roseville Medical Center by ambulance with moderate injuries.

The 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV sustained rollover damage to the front end and part of the roof, he said.

Conner and Helman were passengers in the back seat. One was partially ejected from the vehicle, Martinez said.

The vehicle was traveling southbound on Auburn Folsom Road when it left the road, struck a guardrail, traveled over the guardrail and hit a fence, Martinez said. The SUV came to rest on its side. The crash took place on Auburn Folsom Road, just south of Lees Lane.

By Monday morning, both Newcastle and Del Oro were providing counseling for shaken classmates and children.

Dan Gayaldo, Del Oro principal, said the school was “in a state of numbness and shock.”

Del Oro reserved two classrooms and Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy members and school counselors were made available.

Del Oro student Savannah Ridgley, 15, said the fatal crash left the school in a sad atmosphere.

“It’s definitely been hard on everyone,” Ridgley said. “It has been really quiet in the halls.”

Chaplain Carol Parker said that Helman was new to the school in September but that many students felt as if she was a best friend.

Helman’s death is the third Del Oro student death in just more than a month. Lucas Armand, 15, who was a freshman last school year, died Dec. 20. He had suffered a heart attack in Sept. 2011. Freshman Hannah Olson committed suicide Jan. 5.

“It has been one grief on top of another,” Parker said.