NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Tamer Mosallam was supposed to get picked up on Memorial Day for a trip to the beach with friends, but his father had other ideas and the carload of teens left him behind.
It would be the last time the 17-year-old would see his friends alive. The five teens — two boys and three girls — died late Monday afternoon in a fiery wreck that left the car they were riding in split in two and engulfed in flames. Among the victims were two of Mosallam's closest friends and a pair of sisters who had performed in a high school dance extravaganza over the holiday weekend.
"I was supposed to be with them in the car, that's why there were three girls," Mosallam said, explaining that he was to have been the third boy for a three-way double date. "They came to my house but my dad wouldn't let me go out because I was studying for a test."
A visibly shaken Mosallam and several dozen other students from Irvine Unified School District, where all the victims were enrolled, gathered outside Irvine High School on Tuesday to try to make sense of the tragedy.
Police said speed was a factor in the single-car wreck on a busy, six-lane surface street and the investigation was ongoing.
The driver was identified as 17-year-old Abdulrahman Alyahyan, a senior at University High School.
The passengers included 17-year-old Robin Cabrera, a senior at Irvine High, and her 16-year-old sister Aurora, a sophomore at the same school.
Also killed in the Monday crash were Cecilia Zamora and Nozad Al Hamawendi, both 17-year-old juniors at Irvine High.
There was no class Tuesday because it was a teacher development day but counselors would be on hand Wednesday, said Ian Hanigan, a spokesman for the Irvine Unified School District.
"There are simply no words to convey the sorrow felt by our students and staff, nor are there sufficient answers to explain the loss of five vibrant teenagers from our schools and this community," Irvine Unified School District Superintendent Terry Walker said in a statement.
The families of Zamora and Alyahyan declined to comment when reached by the AP. Families of the other teens could not be reached for comment.
Friends who gathered Tuesday outside Irvine High said the five were headed to the beach for a fun Memorial Day when the tragedy unfolded on a busy thoroughfare that connects Orange County's interior network of freeways with the famed Pacific Coast Highway and its beaches.
Authorities said the wreck was one of the worst in Newport Beach in recent memory and left two of the victims' bodies so damaged the coroner had to rely on fingerprints to identify them. The car hit a tree in the median, shearing it of its bark and leaving deep gouges in the trunk.
The Cabrera sisters were their parents' only two children and were both accomplished dancers in the school's dance program, friends said. They had performed in a three-day recital over Memorial Day weekend, said Brie Martinez, 15.
"(Aurora Cabrera) was kind of nervous for her dance but I heard she did really good," said Martinez, as she began to cry.
"I saw something about the crash on the news last night, but I never would have guessed it was them," she added.
Zamora was also in the dance program and performed over the weekend, said her friend, Paloma Douglas, a junior at the school.
Douglas last saw Zamora on Friday afternoon, when the two attended the same history class — the last course of their day.
"She was sitting next to me, so it's going to be tough seeing that empty seat," said Douglas.
Friends said Alyahyan, the driver, was obsessed with his Infiniti sedan, given to him by his older brother, and spent hours working on it and driving it around with his best friend, Al Hamawendi.
"Abdul loved cars. He took care of his car as if it was a human being," said Ibrahim Razzak, a junior.
The two boys were inseparable and were part of a larger group of about 10 close friends who were either first- or second-generation immigrants from various Middle Eastern countries, said Zach Darwish, an 18-year-old senior at University High who was also close friends with the two boys. The teens all spoke Arabic together when they hung out, which was constantly, he said.
Alyahyan came to Irvine from Saudi Arabia about three years ago, said Mohamad Abdul Razzak, a 16-year-old junior and close friend who also arrived in the U.S. last year from Lebanon.
He played excellent soccer, but wasn't on the school team, and planned to attend community college next fall.
Al Hamawendi came to Irvine two years ago with his family from Iraq, Abdul Razzak said.
He was obsessed with weight-lifting, worked out every day and had been on the wrestling team.
"We're all like one big group of friends. We all love each other, we're all like brothers. It seems like the circle has just broken apart," Darwish said.
"I still can't believe this actually happened to good friends of mine," he said. "It's the worst news you can possibly get."
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