Anurag Chandra, 42, of Corona, was arrested shortly after the late Sunday crash that sent a Toyota Prius into a tree in Temescal Valley, where cops found his white Infiniti sedan with front-end damage, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports.
“It was an intentional act,” California Highway Patrol Lt. David Yokley told reporters Monday. “Our investigation led us to believe Mr. Chandra intentionally rammed the Prius, causing the driver to lose control. The investigation has now changed from a hit-run collision to homicide.”
Witnesses led cops to Chandra after the crash. It’s unclear if road rage was involved, but investigators believe the teen victims knew the man was targeting them. He’s now facing charges of suspicion of murder and assault with a deadly weapon, Yokley said.
“We really don’t know,” Yokley said of a possible motive. “Obviously, there was some sort of contact. We are looking into those exact same questions, of whether or not he was known to the victims.”
Three of the teens were trapped inside the Prius and had to be rescued by firefighters at the scene, where one of them was pronounced dead. Two others succumbed to their injuries at hospitals. They were identified by a coroner’s office as Daniel Hawkins, 16, of Corona; Drake Ruiz, 16, of Corona; and Jacob Ivascu, 16, of Riverside, the newspaper reports.
The injured teens are expected to survive. All six had attended Olive Branch Church & School in Corona, staffers announced on Facebook.
“Our prayers go out to God for His grace, comfort, and mercy to the families at this time,” the statement read.
More than 100 people gathered for a prayer service in Corona late Monday at Northpoint Evangelical Free Church, where the teens had been active members, a spokesman told the newspaper.
“They were bright young kids that had so much to look forward to and it was taken far too early,” spokesman Tim East said.
Alcohol or drugs did not appear to be a factor in the crash, but toxicology tests are still pending. Chandra remained in custody in Riverside County without bail late Monday, the newspaper reports.
“There is no greater tragedy that the death of a young person, and we offer our sincere condolences and continued support to the families,” the Corona-Norco Unified School District said in a statement.