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Online safety pledge takes root after deadly car crash

Woman urges her family, friends to promise to never drink and drive.

October 09, 2013|By Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

After five of her best friends died in a car wreck, Vanessa Lanza made a pledge.

She'd never allow herself, or others, to drink and drive.

As of Tuesday, nearly 600 people had joined Lanza's online vow, in which she asked friends, classmates, community members and strangers to follow suit.

Just after 4 a.m. on Sept. 28, the crash claimed the lives of five young people — identified by authorities as Stephen Stoll, 23, Sugey Cuevas, 19, Malak Hariri, 19, and Sameer Nevarez, 18, and Sebastian Forero, 20 — and left one, 18-year-old Savannah Underwood, badly injured.

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“That could've been anyone in that car,” Lanza, 19, said during a phone interview, adding that she felt the accident could have been prevented. “I just want that sense of reassurance that this will never happen again.”

Details on whether alcohol or drugs played a role in the collision remain pending, authorities said. Friends of the victims indicated the group had attended a party the night before the crash.

Police believe the vehicle, a Nissan sedan equipped with five seatbelts and driven by Stoll, was traveling south on San Fernando Boulevard at high speed and lost control near the Scott Road off-ramp of the Golden State (5) Freeway in the pre-dawn hours. After slamming into a concrete pillar, the vehicle caught fire.

Online, Lanza wrote that the crash was “a heartbreaking form of reality that hit us all,” but that those killed would be “proud to see us take action.”

The issue, Lanza said, is not one that just affects teenagers and young people. “We know for a fact this doesn't have an age limit,” Lanza said. “I think parents should also take the pledge — if my kid ever calls me, no matter what time it is, if they call me and tell me they've been drinking, I will go and pick them up.”

In 2012, Burbank police logged 104 traffic collisions in which drugs or alcohol were involved, including one fatality. As of the end of September of this year, police reported 56 collisions involving drugs or alcohol. 

Even so, the police department is working with the school district and the community on education efforts, said Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn. “We're looking at all avenues of educating our youth to the dangers of drunk driving,” Ryburn said.

To take Lanza's pledge, visit www.pledgebank.com/mssss-promise.

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Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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