As three Granite Bay young adults headed home from a night of dancing early Saturday, a nightmare scenario was racing toward them on Interstate 80 – a wrong-way driver in a black sedan with its lights off.
Authorities believe the wrong-way driver entered the roadway at the Antelope Road interchange. Motorists called 911. But before California Highway Patrol units could reach the westbound 2006 Chrysler 300, it crashed head-on into the trio’s car, a 1994 Buick Regal driven by Matthew Azar, 20.
The cars collided at 2:10 a.m. on eastbound Interstate 80 near the Madison Avenue exit. Pronounced dead at the scene were Azar, Kendra Langham, 18, and Mathew Beardwitt, 18. The CHP said all three people in the Buick were wearing seat belts.
“It would have been very difficult (to see) with a black vehicle, blacked out,” said Chad Hertzell, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. “It would have been difficult for the best driver out there.”
Aaron Jordon Caudillo, 24, of Roseville was driving the wrong-way vehicle. Caudillo remained hospitalized Saturday at Mercy San Juan and will likely face charges, Hertzell said.
“We do know that alcohol and/or drugs were onboard,” said Hertzell, who added that a large bottle of rum was recovered from Caudillo’s vehicle. Hertzell said toxicology results will be rushed to help the district attorney decide on any charges against Caudillo.
“He’s going to be at the hospital for a while, probably a few days,” Hertzell said.
Caudillo’s family, who had gathered at his parents’ west Roseville home, declined comment Saturday.
Beardwitt lived in a mobile home park with his father, Chris Witt, and hoped to be an electrician or design video games.
Interviewed at his Granite Bay residence, Witt said he was still in shock. A sheriff’s deputy delivered the news at about noon Saturday.
“I fell to my knees,” Witt said.
He said his son and girlfriend, Langham, along with their good friend Azar, went to raves every Friday night in Galt and would often return in the early morning.
They all graduated from Granite Bay High School last year, he said.
“He had a good head on his shoulders,” Witt said of his son. “He was bright, kind, full of knowledge. He motivated me to be a better person.”
Mathew had recently moved back home with his father after living with his mother. Father and son played video games and watched movies together in the small mobile home they shared.
Church members and friends had been coming by all day to visit. Two friends from Granite Bay High, Jennifer Garcia and Katilyn Eskelson, wept in the driveway.
They described Azar as a “big teddy bear.”
“He loved the Grateful Dead. He was very bubbly,” Garcia said.
Eskelson’s father, Steven Tyson, had driven the girls to visit.
“This is a nightmare,” he said. “Nobody should have to endure this kind of pain and suffering.”
Langham and Beardwitt worked at the Taco Bell on Douglas Boulevard in Granite Bay. Restaurant manager Nancy Fernandez struggled with tears Saturday as she recalled the pair.
“She was a little ray of sunshine,” Fernandez said of Langham, who wore her hair dyed bright red. “Always happy and cheerful.”
Langham was taking some time off after graduation to figure out what she wanted to do next, Fernandez said.
Langham had worked at the restaurant for about a year and was employee of the month in May. She helped Beardwitt get his job there four months ago, Fernandez said.
“I just can’t make people understand what good kids they were – very conscientious, always willing to do whatever was needed,” said Fernandez, who called them two of her best workers.
Just Friday, Beardwitt gave one of his new work shirts to a co-worker who had forgotten his. “Practically the shirt off his back,” she said.
Co-worker Patty Sims said “they were both very fun-loving, outgoing kids.”
She said she saw Langham and Beardwitt in the restaurant Friday “joking and talking about the night out on the town they were planning. They were bubbling and full of life.”
Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch. Bee staff writer Matt Weiser contributed to this report.