Three Palomar College students dead, 5 hurt after car sheared in half in Oceanside

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - Authorities sought Friday to determine the cause of a North County freeway crash that killed three young adults and injured five others, all of them Japanese citizens attending Palomar College as part of an international-studies program.

The accident occurred shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, when an eastbound 2000 Honda Prelude with eight people inside veered off state Route 78 in Oceanside for unknown reasons, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The sedan careened down an embankment near College Boulevard and struck a power pole, CHP public affairs Officer Jim Bettencourt said. The force of the impact split the vehicle apart and left power lines dangling.

All the occupants of the destroyed car wound up trapped in the wreckage, said Bill Kogerman, a battalion chief with the Oceanside Fire Department. It took emergency crews more than an hour to free them, Kogerman said.

The driver, a 19-year-old man, died at the scene, as did a male and a female passenger, Bettencourt said. The victims' names were withheld pending family notification.

Medics took the survivors, two women and three men, to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido.

The eight victims ranged in age from 18 to 22, the CHP reported. All of them had just started classes at Palomar College this week as part of a program that offers education to students from abroad, school spokeswoman Laura Gropen said.

It was a dark day on campus for other Japanese students.

Kurumi Misawa told 10News, "I just want to go to church to pray or do a memorial for them."

Yuji Watanabe was also saddened and said, "It's just so sad and I can't imagine."

The school is reaching out across the Pacific to loved ones of the victims, offering help with travel arrangements.

Palomar College President Robert Deegan told reporters, "Our hearts go out to the students' families and friends. We are truly heartbroken."

"We are offering counseling services to our students, faculty and staff who may be affected by this tragedy," Deegan added.

The cause of the accident was under investigation, Bettencourt said.

It's not yet known why the driver lost control. One student talked about cultural differences; the driving age in Japan versus the U.S.

Nineteen-year-old Ryotaro Kawamura, who told 10News he doesn't have a car, said, "Back in Japan, we don't drive a car at this age; 19 years old. My parents don't want me to have a car because it's too scary, too dangerous."

Misawa added, "I was going to get a license but now … I don't think so."

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