Perla Espinoza and Danial Lu were on their way to a friend’s house Thursday night to work on posters for a school pep rally the next day.
The juniors at West Campus High School, both 17, never made it to their destination. As they pulled out of Espinoza’s driveway on Power Inn Road, a driver who police allege was under the influence slammed into Lu’s car with enough force to send both vehicles careening across the broad thoroughfare.
Lu and Espinoza were critically injured in the 7:15 p.m. crash. Espinoza was taken to UC Davis Medical Center, and Lu was transported to Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center. Both were pronounced dead a short time later.
“She was smart, beautiful,” Eduardo Espinoza said of his sister. “God just took her away.”
Police identified the driver as Taylor Spier, 23, of Sacramento.
Spier was taken to an area hospital and then booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail on charges of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, police said. She was released later Thursday night, according to jail records.
“Determination of fault has not been completed but speed is being looked into as a possible factor,” Sacramento police said in a news release Friday.
Spier could not be reached for comment Friday. Her Facebook page says she works at Parkwest Casino Lotus on Stockton Boulevard, close to both the accident scene and West Campus High School.
She was smart, beautiful. God just took her away.
Eduardo Espinoza said of his sister
The stretch of Power Inn Road near 39th Avenue where the crash occurred is a long straightaway with two lanes in each direction and a 45 mph speed limit. There are homes on the west side of the street and industrial areas to the east.
Eduardo Espinoza was working on his skateboard in the garage when he heard tires screeching and a loud crash. He and his mother rushed outside, and saw the aftermath of the collision. The pickup truck had hit the Camry hard enough to carry both vehicles across three lanes of traffic and about 30 feet down the road, he said.
Albert Madrigal, who lives a few houses away from the Espinozas, said his son saw the collision and ran to help. Spier was conscious and struggling to pick up what appeared to be pills from the floor of her car, his son told him.
Madrigal was among neighbors who helped build a small memorial with candles and flowers at the accident scene. He also gave hugs to family members as they convened at the Espinoza house on Power Inn Road on Friday afternoon.
Brendan Vuong, a senior at Hiram Johnson High School and one of Lu’s closest friends from middle school, said he was with Lu hours before the accident. The two went fishing at a nearby park.
Vuong said he heard about the accident roughly 30 minutes after it happened, and visited with Lu’s family at the hospital Thursday night. He said the family was mostly calm, but Lu’s mother stood by his bedside the whole night.
“He was very humble and always smiled and laughed,” Vuong said of Lu. “We were always joking around and he was a fun person to hang out with.”
Their friends said both Lu and Espinoza were good students. Eduardo Espinoza said that his sister had aspirations of attending Chico State University after graduating from high school next year, and Lu wanted to go to college, too.
Both were involved with the school community. Along with being active in school activities, such as pep rallies, Lu played for the boys volleyball team and Espinoza played for the girls soccer team, friends said.
He was very humble and always smiled and laughed. We were always joking around and he was a fun person to hang out with.
Brendan Vuong, describing his friend Danial Lu
Gary Parker, one of Espinoza’s neighbors, said he saw Perla Espinoza take her younger siblings to school every day and pick them up. After she came home from school, Espinoza would do her homework and then take the children to the park to play soccer.
“Every day I’d see her and her little siblings playing soccer all the way from the park to their house,” Parker said.
At West Campus, near Fruitridge Road and 58th Street, the Sacramento City Unified School District had counselors and a psychologist on hand Friday to help students and staff deal with the news, said Gabe Ross, the district’s communications officer.
Several West Campus students said the school was much quieter than usual Friday. Many students did not show up to school, and others left early.
“The hallways, they’re not the same,” freshman Jennifer Prieto said.
Students said teachers canceled their lessons for the day and allowed students to talk, listen to music and wander the campus.
“A lot of people in class were just out walking around, trying to cope with it in their own way,” senior Ashley Reynolds said. “Teachers have been really accepting.”
West Campus students said they were planning a candlelight vigil for their classmates. They decorated Lu and Espinoza’s lockers and put up a large poster where students could write fond memories of the pair.
“Just yesterday I saw the girl,” Prieto said. “We’re never gonna see her roaming the hallways. It’s crazy, it’s really crazy.”
Bee staff writer Tony Bizjak contributed to this report.