Santa Rosa teenager charged with vehicular manslaughter in fatal Fountaingrove crash
The Santa Rosa teen suspected of being behind the wheel during a deadly Fountaingrove crash in July that killed a female classmate at Maria Carrillo High School and injured another was charged with vehicular manslaughter and a second felony Monday morning at Sonoma County’s Juvenile Justice Center.
In charging records read aloud to the courtroom, prosecutors accused Rachel Lonto — named for the first time Monday — of driving negligently in the July 1 crash that killed Taylor Sorg, 16.
Prosecutors additionally charged Lonto with felony reckless driving in the crash, which badly injured Kaitlyn Tyndall, another 16-year-old passenger in the car.
Monday’s hearing, which was public due to the severity of the charges filed against Lonto, was attended by Tyndall, her relatives and Sorg’s parents, who sat close together and listened intently as the judge read the charges during the emotional hearing.
The deadly crash, reported to police after midnight July 1, sent shock waves through the Maria Carillo community. Sorg, an up-and-coming pitcher on the school’s softball squad, was preparing to start her junior year.
The collision also raised questions about safety at a popular gathering spot near the crash known as “top of the world,” where police said Lonto, Sorg and Tyndall had been the night of the accident. Local teens and young adults have visited the area during sundown for decades, a tradition that sometimes involved underage drinking and marijuana use, police said.
Authorities did not detail what the group had been doing at the location prior to the crash, though they did note preliminary blood alcohol tests showed Lonto was not intoxicated.
Santa Rosa investigators determined Lonto, who was 16 and driving with a provisional license at the time of the crash, was going too fast while traveling south on the winding and narrow Skyfarm Drive, according to police officials. Instead of stopping at the T intersection at Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Lonto’s Lincoln MKZ sedan continued straight past a sidewalk and over an embankment. No skid marks were found nearby.
The car hit trees and spun before coming to a stop on a nearby golf course. Lonto, who was wearing a seatbelt, suffered minor injuries while Sorg and Tyndall were ejected from the vehicle. Sorg died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital the morning of the crash while Tyndall was sent to the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Lonto, who was initially arrested in the collision but later released, faces a maximum of six years at the county’s juvenile hall for the vehicular manslaughter charge and an additional three years for the second felony if found guilty, Judge Kenneth Gnoss said during the hearing.
Lonto’s parents sat behind her during the hearing. She spoke clearly when answering questions from Gnoss, replying with “Yes, your honor.”
Bill and Tracy Sorg, parents of the teen killed in the crash, sat on the other side of the courtroom. They were joined by Tyndall, her mother and sister, Bill Sorg said in a phone call Monday afternoon. Some in the group let out audible cries as Gnoss read aloud the felony charges.
“It’s been hard on my family and (Tyndall’s) family,” Bill Sorg said. “We’ve kind of stayed together throughout this whole thing.”