Drugs, alcohol involved in Memorial Day crash

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By AMY LINDBLOM

A combination of alcohol, drugs and excessive speed caused a crash that killed four young Tuolumne County residents returning home from a Memorial Day outing.

A just-released 40-page report prepared by the California Highway Patrol said that when driver Edward Olson III, 25, lost control of his 10-day-old 2003 Dodge Neon south of the Parrotts Ferry Bridge, he was going 78 mph.

That was after he hit the brakes at a sharp left-hand turn coming off the bridge's straightaway, the report said.

The Jamestown man was also legally drunk with a blood-alcohol level of .09 percent, and tested positive for marijuana and morphine, a prescription pain killer, toxicology reports showed.

In fact, all four friends in the car that Monday afternoon were either under the influence of alcohol or a combination of alcohol and drugs when they died, the report states.

"What makes this accident especially sad is that there were four fatalities and because they were all local kids," said CHP Officer Tom Wills.

Besides Olson, the others killed in the 3:30 p.m. crash that holiday were Anthony "Tony" Olson, the driver's 23-year-old brother, of Jamestown, Rebecca Jo East, 24, of Jamestown, and Michael Fagnani, 21, of Sonora.

Tony Olson had a blood alcohol content of .27 percent and had diazepam, a prescription anti-anxiety medication found in Valium, in his system, the report stated. East had a blood-alcohol content of .13 and Fagnani had a blood-alcohol content of .10 and tested positive for marijuana, toxicology reports showed.

Olson's speed was determined by Highway Patrol expert Officer Rick Thoma, who measured among other things, the skid marks the car's tires left on the road.

The four died when the Neon was launched over the north side of Parrotts Ferry Road and into Stanislaus River Canyon, rolling several times.

A forensic pathologist determined the four friends were killed by blunt force trauma when they were thrown from side to side inside the car and into bushes and trees as the the car tumbled 200 feet down the steep canyon.

It took firefighters, paramedics and a towing company more than two hours to bring the wrecked car up. The bodies were left inside the car as it was hauled up because it was too dangerous to try to get them out any other way, said Tuolumne County Sheriff's Sgt. Bob Bogolea, one of three coroners on the scene.

The day of the accident, Highway Patrol officers estimated Olson was going about 90 mph before he braked.

"It was a car designed to go fast in a hurry one that a lot of young men that age want," said Frank Smart of the Sonora Wal-Mart, where Olson had worked for about four years. Smart said Olson showed the car off not long after he purchased it.

News that there were drugs in Olson's system would surprise many who worked with him, Smart said.

"We figured there had to be beer, but the drugs are a surprise," Smart said. "Sure, we all have our faults, but nothing's going to sully our image of Eddie. Eddie's loss hit us especially hard. He was our friend."

Before the accident, the Olsons, Fagnani and East were among a group of eight friends swimming and hiking at Natural Bridges off Parrotts Ferry Road, just inside the Calaveras County line.

Witnesses told Highway Patrol officers investigating the crash that everyone except one woman was drinking beer that day. About 3:30 p.m., after the eight friends hiked out of the canyon, they drove away in two separate cars, with Olson leaving at a high rate of speed, the CHP report said.

Four days after the accident, the four were remembered by their friends and family at a candle light vigil at the accident site.

11508692
The Union Democrat
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