6 Students Dead After SUV Slams Into Tree in California

An SUV filled with foreign students swerved off a highway, slammed into a tree and burst into flames, killing six of the seven people aboard, California Highway Patrol officials said Friday.

All but one of those in the vehicle that crashed Thursday evening near Los Alamos, about 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles, were foreign students studying in San Francisco: four from France and one each from Russia and Turkey. The remaining passenger, a 30-year-old San Francisco man and U.S. citizen, was among the dead.

The group was headed to the Los Angeles area when the Toyota Land Cruiser drifted into the dirt median on Highway 101, the driver, Jeanne Ostrowski, 19, swerved to the right, CHP Sgt. Ben Ruth said. The SUV then veered off the road and slammed into a cottonwood tree. No other vehicles were involved.

A witness helped the driver out of the burning vehicle. Ostrowski, who is French, suffered major injuries and is in serious condition at a hospital, Ruth said.

Two of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle and landed about 10 feet away. The other four victims were likely killed on impact before the SUV caught on fire, Ruth said.

Ruth said alcohol was not a factor in the crash but the SUV was going about five miles over the speed limit.

"Some people, when something unexpected happens on the road, instead of just taking their foot off accelerator, they overcorrect. That causes them to lose control, and it appears that's what happened here," Ruth said.

All six of the students were in their 20s. Five attended the Embassy Center for English Studies and one attended LINES Ballet School, both in San Francisco.

Embassy spokesman John LoGrasso declined to comment on the accident. A message left with the ballet school was not immediately returned Friday.