Mourners cope with death of pair in crash; three of injured released from hospital.
The Orange County Register | May 29, 2005
By Peggy Lowe, Pat Brennan, & Nguyen Huy Vu
IRVINE The boy and girl are smiling, poised at the point of a kiss in the black and white photo. Two fluffy white teddy bears sit on either side of the photo, an old gold pocket watch taped above it, keeping time at this quiet vigil at a noisy interchange.
The makeshift memorial materialized Saturday at the bottom of an exit ramp off the San Joaquin Hills (73) Toll Road, marking the place where a popular teen couple were killed and four other high school students injured in a traffic accident Thursday night on the way to a dance.
A community of mourners from south to north Orange County spent their Memorial Day holiday weekend dealing with the stuff nightmares are made of — young people gone, injured teens in the hospital, parents making funeral plans for their children.
But there was some relief. Three of the injured were released from area hospitals and returned home. The fourth, Ryan Massey, 15, from Laguna Niguel, was still in critical condition at CHOC at Mission Hospital’s Regional Trauma Center in Mission Viejo, with his parents at his bedside.
Funeral services were set for next week for Jonathan Schulte, 16, of Orange and Gillian “Jill” Sabet, 17, of San Clemente. They were the couple whose photo at the roadside shrine was marked with a sign that said, “May the angels lead you in.” Sabet, who was student body president at JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano, was to be crowned queen at the dinner dance the night of the crash.
Ashley Melbourne, 16, left Western Medical Center in Santa Ana in a wheelchair and returned to her Aliso Viejo home on Saturday. Melbourne, Sabet’s best friend, also attends JSerra.
Another JSerra student, Madeline Moore, 15, of San Juan Capistrano, was released from CHOC at Mission on Saturday. John Buehler, 17, who attends Servite High School in Anaheim with Schulte, was released from Western Medical Center and was home in his Anaheim Hills neighborhood talking with friends by Saturday afternoon.
The six students were dressed in formal dresses and tuxes, ready for the end-of- the-school-year dinner dance aboard a yacht at Newport Beach on Thursday night. Melbourne was driving the 2000 Isuzu Rodeo, cruising about 70 mph on the northbound San Joaquin Hills Toll Road about 7:10 p.m. when the accident occurred.
California Highway Patrol investigators say Melbourne was reaching for a pack of gum in the side door as she steered the car down an incline near Newport Coast Drive. Massey, in the passenger seat, grabbed the steering wheel, and the car spun and rolled over twice. The crash is still under investigation.
Because Melbourne had her license for more than six months, she was allowed to drive without an adult in the car, the CHP said.
Massey is part of a tight- knit group of students from the South Orange County School of the Arts at Dana Hills High School. His friends started camping out near his bed at the hospital’s intensive care unit on Friday, making funny posters, eating junk food and singing, said Sandy Erwin, a neighbor of the Masseys.
“This has been a good community of kids,” Erwin said. “You hear so many bad things about teens. But these are teenagers who are sweet, kind, supportive, generous.”
A gifted singer, Massey was set to perform Monday at Fairhaven Memorial Park with the California Conservatory of the Arts. The group was to sing three upbeat songs, but that was changed to two somber songs to reflect the group’s loss, said Mary Ellen Lohnes, Fairhaven’s public relations coordinator.
“We have different heroes in different points in our lives,” Lohnes said. “These students are demonstrating that strength comes in all sizes.”
The father of Jonathan Schulte, the 16-year-old killed in the accident, took time with friends and family to remember his son Saturday.
Thomas Schulte said he knew Jonathan had an independent spirit when the boy was diagnosed with type one diabetes at 8 and promptly learned to manage the condition on his own.
“I was very proud about that,” Schulte said outside his home in Orange, where friends and family had gathered. “Within three days, he was giving himself his own shots.”
“This was a kid that wanted to do it himself,” said Schulte, an Orange County Superior Court commissioner.
“He didn’t ask for help very often.”
Jonathan spent a lot of time with other Catholic teenagers from the San Antonio Youth Group, and met Sabet through the group.
While some adolescents withdraw from their parents, Jonathan and his friends didn’t.
“All of the kids were comfortable with their parents,” Schulte said, sometimes sitting down to watch movies with them or just to chat.
“It was a loving and open relationship,” Schulte said.
His wife and Jonathan’s mother, Shirley, died of cancer three years ago, but she might be one reason Jonathan had such an independent streak. A registered nurse, she taught him how to manage his diabetes and “how to take care of himself,” Schulte said.
Her loss hit the boy hard. “He struggled with that,” Schulte said.
He hoped Jonathan’s life could be an example for other children. Even the accident, he said, could reinforce cautions parents give children.
“Drive carefully,” he said. “Life is fragile. Your day can come any day.”
Funeral services for Gillian Sabet will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary in Santa Ana.
A memorial service will be held for Jonathan Schulte at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Norbert’s Catholic Church in Orange, with a rosary at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Copyright 2005 The Orange County Register