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CHP: Teen in fatal Santa Rosa crash likely took exit to evade deputies

Speeding south on Highway 101 at about 100 mph, two Ukiah teens realized they were being pursued by law enforcement by about the time they reached Santa Rosa, several miles before the 17-year-old driver took a highway exit too fast, crashed and died while her two passengers were injured, according to the CHP on Monday.

A funeral Mass for Keila Verdusco, 17, is scheduled for Friday.

The three had been to a party in Ukiah before they began driving south. Where they were headed wasn’t clear but CHP investigators believe Verdusco took the Hearn Avenue exit early Saturday hoping to evade the deputies catching up to her, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said Monday.

The small Toyota Echo was going too fast and the driver lost control in the curve. The car slammed down into a drainage area.

Verdusco died on impact. Front passenger Angelia Bennett, also 17, of Ukiah was thrown through the windshield out onto the ground. Neither girl had been wearing a seat belt.

In the back seat, 19-year-old Boonville resident Samuel Alvarez had been sleeping during the high-speed pursuit, according to the CHP. He had been wearing his seatbelt and suffered a broken neck.

CHP officers interviewed the survivors and were told the driver realized a patrol car with its lights on was somewhere behind her at about Airport Boulevard, Sloat said.

It took awhile for the deputy to approach the Echo due to the extreme speed, he said.

A Sonoma County sheriff’s official reported the fatal crash occurred during a 12-mile, high-speed pursuit by deputies.

A deputy first saw the car driving erratically as it passed through Windsor at 1:25 a.m. Thinking the driver could be drunk, the deputy took off after it and reported the car was moving at speeds faster than 100 mph.

Alvarez and Bennett were taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. They were no longer at the hospital Monday. Their conditions were unknown and it is unclear whether they were released to other hospitals or sent home.

Verdusco was a student at New Beginnings continuation high school in Talmage, school officials said. Bennett graduated from South Valley continuation school in Ukiah earlier this year and Alvarez graduated from Anderson Valley High School in 2013, school officials said.

New Beginnings on Monday issued a statement about Verdusco’s death: “It was with great sadness that we learned of Keila’s passing. As part of the (Mendocino County Office of Education) Alternative Education Program family, she will be greatly missed by our staff and students who knew her,” stated Merry Catron, director of alternative education programs. “We offer the family our most heartfelt condolences.”

Catron said counselors were available to students, and that students would be invited to take the time to remember Verdusco. Catron would not allow students at the school to be interviewed and would not divulge any information about Verdusco.

A viewing and rosary for Verdusco will be held at St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church in Ukiah from 8 p.m. Thursday to ?8 a.m. Friday, followed by a 10 a.m. Mass at the church on Friday, according to the Eversole Mortuary.

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