Placer High School students, friends and families are mourning two teenage boys who were struck and killed Sunday evening by a pickup driver believed to be under the influence of drugs.
Best friends Jared Gaches, 15, of Auburn, and Trevor Keller, 15, of Foresthill, were killed as they and a third friend walked northbound alongside Highway 49 just north of Auburn when a white Ford pickup truck heading south drifted into them on the roadway shoulder.
The crash, near Locksley Lane, occurred at 5:15 p.m. Gaches died at the scene and Keller died later at the hospital, California Highway Patrol spokesman David Martinez said. Both were students at Placer High School in Auburn and members of the freshman football team.
The third teen, who was not injured, told Channel 3 (KCRA) that the trio had left a nearby park after skateboarding and were headed to a coffee shop a few blocks north when the pickup slammed into Gaches and Keller. It is uncertain how fast the truck was moving.
The CHP’s Martinez said the pickup had been involved in another collision just prior to that, when it sideswiped a vehicle on nearby Dry Creek Road.
Officers arrested the driver, Philip Morris Ingram, 62, an Auburn resident, on suspicion of felony driving under the influence of drugs and of vehicular manslaughter. A computer check at the Placer County courthouse shows there was a previous driving under the influence charge initiated against Ingram, but no date or disposition listed. Officials said the documents for that case are being retrieved from court archives.
School officials called in counselors and chaplains Monday morning so students would be able to meet to process their grief. A memorial was set up on campus where students could write their feelings in messages.
Placer High School principal Peter Efstathiu expressed the shock.
“This was not supposed to happen,” he said. “They were not doing anything wrong. They were doing everything correctly, just walking along the street enjoying their time in life. Then, tragically this happens.
“Students may need some quiet time just to process what is going on,” he said. “Some kids may want to go home. They might find it too overwhelming.”
Friends said the two boys were friendly, funny and upbeat. They liked to camp and fish. Placer High student Tanner Beatty said the two were his best friends.
“They were student athletes, really good people,” Beatty said, choking with emotion as he spoke.
Beatty went to school Monday even though he was very upset so he could be among friends, he said. Asked how he heard that his buddies had been killed, he said he got a text Sunday from another friend, saying “I’m sorry.” He texted back, “For what?”
Kelsey Griffin arrived for school with a poster she had drawn to place at the memorial for her friends.
Jared “always put a smile on your face,” she said. “You never saw him sad. He would walk into class and joke around and mingle and make everybody laugh. Trevor was really funny. He always had a smile on his face.”
CHP officials said they have been joined by the Placer County Sheriff’s Department and the county district attorney in the investigation.
Ingram, the man accused of hitting the boys, lives a half-mile from the crash scene in a single-story home in a small subdivision. Neighbors said he has lived alone in the house for years and is a pleasant and quiet neighbor.
“He’s been on disability for a long time,” said neighbor Genetta Ison. Another neighbor said Ingram had back issues.
The speed limit on Highway 49 at the crash site is 55 miles per hour. That section of highway also serves as a local north Auburn street, with residential subdivisions and street businesses. The street has four lanes of traffic with a left-turn lane. There is about six feet of blacktop shoulder separated from the traffic lane by a white line. Beyond that, there is a patch of dirt and a sound wall.
“It is heavily traveled and speed limits are very high there,” Martinez said. “Dangerous? It can be.”
Friends of the two boys on Sunday night built a small memorial with candles and two crosses with the boys’ names.
Jenny Nishimi, a former CHP officer and Auburn-area resident, stopped by to take a photograph to post online as a warning to others to avoid the scene on the busy highway.
“There is a strong need for a separate path (for pedestrians),” she said. “Not everyone has vehicles.”
Hundreds of students, parents and other members of the Auburn community filled the Placer High School quad Monday evening for a candlelight vigil honoring the boys. Tea light candles lined the steps to a memorial where people stopped to write remembrances of the teens.
Members of the boys’ families thanked those who gathered, saying they were moved by the outpouring of community support. One women fell to her knees in front of the makeshift memorial.