A California university and a high school mourned Tuesday after a fiery crash involving cross-country teams from both schools killed three people and left 16 injured near the eastern Sierra Nevada.
Four people remained hospitalized in extremely critical condition, California Highway Patrol Officer Dennis Cleland said.
California Baptist University cheerleading coach Wendy Rice, 35, of Corona died when an out-of-control sport utility vehicle struck the van she was driving. The team was headed to a high-altitude training camp in Mammoth on Monday night, the Riverside school said.
Two recent graduates of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego who were traveling in the SUV also were killed. They were identified as Amanda Post and Natalie Nield in a notice posted on the school's website by Principal Michael Deely.
"This is a severe shock to all of us and our prayers are with our family and friends affected by this tragedy," Deely said.
The close-knit university community also was trying to cope with the grief and shock caused by the worst single accident in its history. Officials worked on a crisis response, and a memorial service could be held later.
"This kind of tragedy touches us in many ways," university spokesman Mark Wyatt said.
Rice was starting her third year at the school, Wyatt said. She left a husband and two children.
"She was remembered for being loving and very caring," Wyatt said. "And in fact, she was helping out with the cross-country team as a driver."
The cause of the crash remained under investigation, but there was no evidence that alcohol or drugs were involved, Cleland said.
Three vans carrying about 45 members of the men's and women's cross-country teams at the university were on northbound U.S. Highway 395 a few miles from Bishop when the southbound Ford SUV with five people inside drifted onto the shoulder. The SUV then veered back, overturned and rolled through the center divider, striking the van and bursting into flames, the CHP said.
A Subaru traveling behind the vans also hit the flaming SUV.
A deputy pulled a man from the burning vehicle and went back for a second person who was screaming for help. The deputy couldn't get back inside the SUV because of the flames and heat, according to a CHP report.
A third person who was burned and hurled from the SUV walked past the deputy then died on the pavement, the report said.
One student-athlete in the van and three people in the SUV were in extremely critical condition, Cleland said. The SUV patients had third-degree burns.
Deely identified two of the severely burned high school graduates as Derek Thomas, 19, and Drew Constantine Dellis, 22, both of Encinitas. No further information on victims was released on the school website.
The woman driving the Subaru suffered third-degree burns to her arm and had moderate injuries, Cleland said.
University students with serious injuries included Alicia Catanese, 21, of Corona, and Rebecca Trupp, 20, of Riverside.
At least six students were treated for minor injuries and released.
The statement from Cathedral Catholic indicated some of the students in the SUV had been on the cross country team at their school.
"They did have some athletic and running gear," Cleland said.
University students who were unharmed continued to the training camp and spent the night but cut short their scheduled weeklong stay and were expected to return to the school Tuesday.
The 4,100-student private university was mostly closed until the fall session begins on Sept. 1, although a few athletic and other programs continued.