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Santa Rosa teenager charged with vehicular manslaughter in fatal Fountaingrove crash

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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.”

Gnoss listed six other infractions filed against Lonto in the case, which would lead to fines if she were found in violation, he said.

They included failing to stop at a stop sign, driving over solid parallel lines and driving without all passengers being strapped into a seatbelt.

Prosecutors additionally accused Lonto of driving outside the terms of her provisional license by driving past curfew and driving passengers under 20 years old. Lonto had received the provisional license about two months before the deadly crash, authorities said.

Lonto’s lawyer, Steve Gallenson, a veteran trial attorney, asked Gnoss to delay entering a plea until a later date, a request Gnoss granted. Prosecutor Barbara Nanney asked Gnoss to place Lonto on electronic monitoring and bar her from driving as the case continues.

“I’m asking the court to order her not to drive, period,” Nanney said. Gnoss agreed to the condition.

Nanney also asked for Lonto to be drug tested, saying blood testing after the crash detected traces of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in Lonto’s system after the crash. The amount would not have been enough to impair her driving and could have been in her system for “a while,” Nanney said. Gnoss agreed again, ordering Lonto to be tested after Monday’s hearing.

Gallenson, Lonto and her family declined to comment after the hearing Monday. Tyndall and her family also declined to speak after Monday’s hearing.

Lonto was asked to return to court on Jan. 3.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

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