Megan Nicolai

Families mourn Torrance teens killed in Santa Barbara crash

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Danielle Murrillo, above, and Jessica Leffew.

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Family and friends of two North High School students who died in a car crash Monday say the two girls were a “bright light” in the lives of many.

Jessica Leffew and Danielle Murillo, both 17, died in a crash on the 101 near the Castillo Street exit in Santa Barbara early Monday morning.

Cathy Leffew said her stepdaughter had been planning to go to El Camino College after graduation and enter the medical field, possibly as a nursing assistant. Jessica was looking forward to prom and graduation, Leffew said.

Jessica was a fierce defender of her family, a cellphone fanatic and a shoulder to cry on for those who needed it. But most of all she was honest, Leffew said.

“She would definitely tell it like it is,” Leffew said. “She had a big personality. … She had the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. They were bright, mint green.”

Jessica and Brian Adonay Lopez, who had dated for a few months, went with Murillo and Erick Hoel August to a festival near Santa Maria for the day – they bought hot dogs and listened to music, Leffew said. Jessica had texted her biological mother around
10 p.m. to let her know they were heading home, Leffew said. Her mother texted her after that, but didn’t get a response.

Jessica’s mother and father were in the process of working on a missing persons report when officers knocked on the mother’s door at 9 a.m. Monday to let her know about the accident, Leffew said.

Lopez, 20, of Los Angeles was also killed in the crash. August, 20, of Los Angeles, is in critical condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

All four were in a 2005 Mazda owned by Murillo but driven by August, Cathy Leffew recalled.

At about 12:45 a.m., the Mazda was going south on the 101 when it suddenly veered to the right, according to the California Highway Patrol. The Mazda hit the guardrail and flipped onto its roof. Why the car swerved is still under investigation.

Seconds later, a white 2013 Ford Mustang ran into the Mazda, ejecting two passengers, CHP said.

The Highway Patrol said Kimberly Ann Kreis, 52, of Santa Barbara, the driver of the Ford, was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. She posted bail, set at $100,000, at about 7:30 p.m. Monday, according to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department.

Donald Clark, a family friend of the Murillos, lives across the street from Danielle Murillo’s childhood home. He said his daughter Taylor and Danielle were friends as children and that he remembers 5-year-old Danielle tearing down the street with her grandmother in pursuit.

They stayed in touch, and occasionally brought Danielle on vacation. She was into skiing, wakeboarding and soccer, he said.

“I’ll miss her like she was my own daughter,” Clark said. “She was outgoing, loving. Nothing ever bothered that girl. … Our family grieves for them.”

Contact the writer: mnicolai@losangelesregister.com; on Twitter @Megan Nicolai