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One year ago, four teens died in collision that stunned high school community


Members of the Casa Grande High School community are keenly aware that Dec. 13 marks the first anniversary of the accident that claimed the lives of two of their students, as well as two San Antonio High School students.

And for many members of that community, the anniversary is bringing back fond memories of the Casa Grande juniors, Greg Kubeck and Caj?o Phelan, as well as of the San Antonio seniors, Adrianna DeLaTorre and Christina Ramirez, both of whom were friends with many Casa Grande students.

But this feeling is mixed with deep sadness, because old wounds are being re-opened.

?A lot of students knew the kids who were killed,? said Paula Ravani, the senior class counselor. ?Our staff has been prepared to help students who experience difficulty on that date this year, and the career center has been set up as a space to deal with their problems.?

On the day of the accident, DeLaTorre, who had received her driver?s license in October, was driving her 1996 Ford Taurus with seven other teenagers inside, and dropped two of them off. At around 4 p.m., DeLaTorre came to a stop on East Washington Street at Adobe Road. As she began turning left, her car collided with a large Isuzu truck driven by Jonathan Lane Dougherty, 26, of Acampo.

After a thorough inspection of the vehicle, California Highway Patrol investigators determined in April that the Ford Taurus had no defects that could have caused the accident, so apparently DeLaTorre didn?t see the truck or simply hesitated in making the turn.

DeLaTorre and Phelan were pronounced dead at the scene, and Kubeck and Ramirez ? along with San Antonio student Michaela Jones and Casa Grande student Miguel DeLaTorre, the driver?s brother ? were taken to local hospitals. Kubeck and Ramirez died, while Jones and Miguel DeLaTorre, now seniors, recovered, as did Dougherty, who suffered minor injuries.

The tragedy shook the campus and greater Petaluma communities.

?I heard about the deaths on the day of the accident, but didn?t know which students were killed until I came to work the following day. It was very devastating to find out that two of them were my students. And it was hard to help kids who were falling apart when I was falling apart myself,? Ravani said.

But the schools and community, in general, banded together to help everyone deal with the crisis. Teachers, counselors and other staff members helped students at the schools, and community organizations, agencies and other schools offered support to anyone in need.

School district personnel, psychologists, counselors, hospice workers, chaplains, police officers, highway patrol officers and non-affiliated community members, among others, pitched in wherever needed.

And during subsequent months, students in need of additional help were accommodated.

?Everyone at Casa Grande felt the loss of the students, and we had experienced the deaths of some other kids during the past few years. We tried to keep things calm and as normal as possible this past year,? Ravani said.

On June 25, 2004, Casa Grande student Brett Callan was killed when classmate Joe Trombetta lost control of a Ford Mustang he was driving at over 80 mph and careened off Petaluma-Point Reyes Road. Trombetta and two other Casa Grande students ? Ashley Barbieri and Michelle Gallagher, both of whom Ravani also was counseling ? were injured.

Dave Rose, the coordinator of student services for Petaluma City Schools who also is serving as the co-principal of San Antonio this year, says that since the immediate aftermath of the 2005 crash, it generally hasn?t been a topic of discussion for San Antonio as a whole.

?If we bring it up, we open up old wounds. But some students have needed ongoing help to deal with it, and we have provided it for them on an individual basis,? he said.

Petaluma schools have provided support and guidance for teenagers by offering programs on safe driving practices.

For the past few years, Petaluma high schools have alternated in presenting the Every 15 Minutes program, which dramatically teaches students about the dangers of driving recklessly and under the influence of alcohol and drugs. On Sept. 21, Petaluma High School kicked off an Alive at 25 program, which promotes safe drinking and other habits for young people. The presentation included a brief talk by Callan?s mother, Judy Callan.

And on March 15 and 29, the Courage to Live Program will be offered at Kenilworth Junior High School and Petaluma Junior High School for the third consecutive year. This program is being spearheaded by Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gary Nadler, a Petaluma resident, and presents factual data to demonstrate the harm caused by drug and alcohol use. It also hopes to galvanize students to combat such use.

The County of Sonoma has taken steps to try to prevent future accidents at the East Washington Street-Adobe Road intersection. Shortly after the accident, warning lights and a flashing red light were installed at the intersection, where other recent fatalities and major accidents have occurred. Stop signs on Adobe Road at the intersection subsequently were installed.

But the lights and stop signs don?t do nearly as much to promote safe driving as another addition at the intersection ? crosses bearing the names of the four students who died there last December.

(Contact Dan Johnson at djohnson@arguscourier.com)