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Pasadena reels from Tesla crash that left 3 dead, 3 injured

A small memorial outside the scene in Pasadena where there was a violent car crash over the weekend.
Repair work begins on a building destroyed after a Tesla crashed into it while traveling at speeds of over 100 mph in Pasadena. Three people died and three were severely injured in the May 11 accident.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
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Pasadena is reeling from a violent car crash over the weekend that left three young adults dead and three other young people badly injured.

The victims, whose ages range from 17 to 22, all had roots in the City of Roses.

A memorial of flowers and candles assembled near a ruined building in east Pasadena marked the spot where the car’s driver crashed his Tesla after hitting a nearby curb at more than 100 mph just before 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

The driver and two passengers died in the crash, and three more passengers were hospitalized with serious injuries, according to authorities.

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By Monday morning, the memorial outside the unoccupied building on East Foothill Boulevard was replete with votive candles, a soccer ball and shoe, flowers and a pair of leather notebooks in which friends and family members could leave messages.

A memorial grows at the scene where three people died and three were severely injured following a high-speed crash.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

It’s where 20-year-old Sergio Nava laid a bouquet of flowers for his friend Stephan Michael “Mike” Pfeiffer, whom he met in middle school at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School in Pasadena. They talked almost every day, and Nava thinks that if the circumstances were different — if maybe Nava hadn’t been scheduled to work Saturday at a local Ralphs supermarket — he could have been in the car with his friend.

“I know he’s in a better place now and he’s looking down on us,” Nava said, placing the flowers.

Two people in the Tesla were able to get out of the vehicle after it flew off the freeway overpass.

March 4, 2024

Pfeiffer, 20, was from Pasadena, according to the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office. The two other people killed were a man in his 20s whom KABC7 identified as Esrom Fessemaye and Moheb Reda Samuel, 22, of Pasadena. The medical examiner’s office previously provided an incorrect spelling for Samuel’s first name.

Samuel was the driver of the white, five-seat Tesla Model 3 that was heading west on Foothill Boulevard when it appeared to have lost control navigating a bend in the road. It hit a curb and launched into the air, according to Lt. Anthony Russo with the Pasadena Police Department.

The car probably soared more than 130 feet before it struck a utility pole and the building, Russo said.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but based on preliminary information, it does not appear that the vehicle malfunctioned, according to Russo. The county medical examiner’s office will perform a toxicology test to determine if drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.

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A person pays their respects at a memorial where three people died on E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena.
A person, who didn’t want to give their name, pays their respects at a memorial where three people died on E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Samuel and the passenger in the front seat, who police believe was Fessemaye, died at the scene, while three of the four rear passengers were thrown from the vehicle during the crash, Russo said. The fourth passenger remained in the vehicle because they were wearing their seat belt.

One of the passengers thrown from the vehicle, who police believe was Pfeiffer, died, and two others were transported to a hospital along with the survivor who remained in the vehicle’s back seat, Russo said. All three passengers — identified by police as Emerson Newquist, 20, of Pasadena and Bella Ramirez, 18, of Monrovia, and by KTLA as Samuel’s 17-year-old sister, Emily — are expected to survive, according to authorities.

Samuel was charged in September with driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, according to court records. He appeared in a Pasadena courtroom in March for his arraignment and a plea hearing.

Tesla has settled a lawsuit brought by the family of a Silicon Valley engineer who died in a crash while relying on the company’s semi-autonomous driving software.

April 9, 2024

Maranatha High School in Pasadena released a statement about the crash because some of the victims involved were or had been students at the private Christian school. It did not offer any names, but a school athletics website shows that Samuel was a varsity soccer player who graduated from Maranatha in 2020. Grief counselors were being made available to the school and community, according to the statement posted to Facebook on Sunday.

The school asked the public to respect the privacy of the families whose loved ones were involved in the crash.

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“We are deeply saddened by this weekend’s tragic car accident that claimed precious young lives. We mourn this immense loss and extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those affected,” the statement said. “During this difficult time, we turn to our faith in Christ Jesus for comfort and strength and ask others to join us in praying for all who are suffering due to this tragedy.”

On Monday morning, a student wearing a Maranatha sweater approached the memorial and left flowers. Pieces of the Tesla remained strewn about the street and sidewalk.

A large gash in the sidewalk spoke of where the vehicle went airborne, and another large scratch on the ground at a nearby corner showed where the Tesla eventually came to rest.

Among the items at the memorial was a skateboard propped on the handles of the ruined building’s door with the name “Mike” scratched onto the board’s deck.

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, the truck’s manufacturer, joked that the valet at the hotel probably didn’t expect the truck to have so much power.

March 4, 2024

“He was a humble guy and he didn’t like to show off. He was just very sweet to his grandfather and grandmother,” Nava said. Pfeiffer had taken care of his grandfather until his grandfather’s death, and was living with his grandmother at the time of the accident, according to Nava.

Nava said his friend was a skateboarder who studied kinesiology at Pasadena City College. Pfeiffer had planned to change his major, but remained undecided about what to study next.

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“I guess we’ll never know,” Nava said as he picked up one of the notebooks to write a message for his friend. Pfeiffer would have been 21 this July, according to Nava.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help pay for Pfeiffer’s funeral services.

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