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2 French teens killed in California van crash

Two French teens died and five other French nationals were injured when the driver of their van fell asleep, causing the vehicle to veer  and roll over, the California Highway Patrol said Sunday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two French teenagers were killed and five other French nationals were injured when the driver of their van fell asleep, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and roll over, the California Highway Patrol said Sunday.

The accident occurred Saturday morning on State Route 190 in California's Death Valley National Park, about 100 miles west of Las Vegas, according to patrol Capt. Tim Lepper.

The French consul in Los Angeles, David Martinon, said the group was traveling from Las Vegas to California's Death Valley National Park.

The driver of the rented passenger van, 31-year-old Nassera Soudani of Levallois Perrett, France, will likely be charged with vehicular manslaughter, Lepper said.

"She admitted to being tired and falling asleep," he said. "It's a very desolate area out there. You drive for miles and miles before you see anything other than landscape."

One passenger wore seat belt
The two girls killed in the crash were identified as 17-year-old Leah Baldaccini of Due Plateau De Rhodes, France, and 16-year-old Orane Pozzo Di Borgo of Marseille, France, the patrol said. The four other teenagers were injured, two of them seriously, the patrol said.

Soudani, who suffered a broken jaw, fell asleep while driving in the desert, woke up when the vehicle ran off the road, then overcorrected by turning the steering wheel in the other direction, according to the patrol.

At least three passengers were ejected when the van rolled over. Only one of the passengers was wearing a seat belt.

One victim was pronounced dead at the scene, while the other passengers were transported to University Medical Center and Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, authorities said.

The victims were from the French region of Seine-et-Marne and were on a trip organized by a group based south of Paris called Cousins d'Amerique, France's Foreign Ministry said.

The most seriously injured victim, a 15-year-old, "should make it," Martinon said. The driver will also likely recover and the other three injured should leave the hospital in the coming days, he said.

Group is ‘very shocked’
The van was traveling in a convoy of three vehicles carrying about 20 people in total. The van that crashed was the middle vehicle in the convoy, authorities said.

The others in the group were sent to a Las Vegas hotel Sunday while French officials discussed sending them back to France.

"They are very shocked," Martinon said.

Earlier this year, four French tourists were killed and four others were critically injured when their tour bus crashed in the Central California town of Soledad. The bus's American driver also died.

The CHP blamed driver error for the April 28 crash, and 28 French plaintiffs have filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against the driver's estate and the tour and bus companies.