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A Lyft driver and his customer were reportedly killed after a fiery hit and run crash that is suspected to be a result from street racing in Palmdale, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials. The other driver abandoned his car and fled.
The victims were Lesther Deleon, the Lyft driver, and Spechelle Pope, whom he was taking to a grocery store around midnight. Deleon’s Toyota Corolla was hit from behind by a Dodge Challenger that was allegedly speeding on 12th Street West and Rancho Vista Boulevard near the Antelope Valley Mall. Sheriff’s Detective Liz Sherman told KABC the impact pushed the Toyota into a light pole and the car caught fire.
“I realized the car was going to explode,” Jonathan Craig, who made an attempt to pull a male occupant out of the vehicle as the fire erupted, told KABC. “At that time I was struggling, the flames were getting stronger.” Despite his valiant efforts, the driver and passenger of that vehicle were pronounced dead at the scene.
“He passed away, I want to say, three minutes after me pulling him out of the fire. I told him to hang on, listen to my voice, the ambulance is coming, they’re on their way…He took his last breath,” he told TV station KCAL. Craig, who is an employee from a nearby Denny’s, also said that the driver of the Challenger abandoned it and was picked up by another car, an Infiniti.
KCAL also noted that the Challenger was registered to a car rental agency. The Toyota, however, was not involved in the suspected race.
“We have had an increase in street racing issues in the area,” Sherman reportedly explained. “We do have deputies that are out nightly that are trying to make an impact on the car clubs.”
An investigation conducted by the LA Times found 179 people died in speed contests from 2000 to 2017 in Los Angeles County. Moreover, since the onset of lockdowns street racing increased throughout California. According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 30% of all fatal car accidents can be directly attributed to speeding. Furthermore, according to the National Safety Council, about 13,000 lives are lost yearly as a direct consequence of speeding.
Moreover, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also noted a direct and obvious correlation between vehicle speed and crash severity. It’s simple laws of physics in action – the faster the speed of a vehicle in motion, the greater the impact, and the more severe and potentially life threatening the subsequent injuries will be. The study also determined that motorists traveling at or below the speed limit significantly lowered their risk of being seriously injured in a car accident. In contrast, the risk of being severely injured increased exponentially for those choosing to drive above the speed limit.
Pope was a mother of four young children. Deleon was a beloved soccer coach driving for Lyft at the time.