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Four Chs Students Hurt In Friday Car Wreck

Driver arrested for DUI

Law enforcement officials are investigating a Friday night car crash that resulted in serious injuries to two Columbia High School students, less severe injuries to two other students, and the arrest of the adult driver.

The wreck occurred near the intersection of Main and Loop Road in White Salmon, at around 10 p.m.

Two of the five people in the Ford Mustang when it crashed were badly hurt. Stacey Neils, a CHS senior, and Jose Barajas, a junior, were the most seriously injured.

Two others in the car, Jessica Lundh and Rafael Torres -- both seniors -- were treated at Skyline Hospital.

The driver, Eric Contreras was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants. He was transported to the Klickitat County Jail in Goldendale, and as of Monday, was being held there awaiting arraignment on the charges.

"The driver was not injured," said Klickitat County Sheriff Chris Mace. "The other two were treated and released."

According to Mace, the Mustang was traveling toward White Salmon on Loop Road, but details of how the wreck happened are still being pieced together.

"What we know for sure is that two witnesses heard a vehicle go by at what they believe was a very high rate of speed," said Mace. "Then they heard tires squealing and a crash, and called 9-1-1."

Police and emergency personnel responding to the scene found a black, 1989 Mustang in the field across from Gardner Funeral Home.

"It blew through the stop sign, went through the intersection, through a barbed wire fence and then into the field, rolled over and ended up on its top," Mace explained.

Because of the injuries to Barajas and Neils, Contreras -- who graduated from CHS in 2002 -- may also be charged with vehicular assault.

"More charges may be pending," Mace said. "The rest of the case will be forwarded to the county prosecutor."

In addition to the charges against Contreras, two of the juveniles in the car were cited for being "minors in possession" of alcohol.

Deputies investigating the crash are focusing on factors that contributed to the crash, in particular the Mustang's speed and what was going on in the vehicle at the time of the accident.

Mace said Neils and Barajas would have been taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Emanuel Hospital in Portland, but bad weather kept the helicopter grounded and they were instead transported to Emanuel by ambulance.

As of Tuesday, Neils was listed in fair-good condition. Barajas was reported to be in good condition, and could be released from the hospital as early as March 28.

On Monday morning, CHS principal Malcolm Dennis called a staff meeting to let teachers know what had happened to the students.

"I wanted to give everybody information so if students started talking, we could have the facts," Dennis said.

Dennis added that the students seemed to be handling the situation well.

"The fact that a lot of our students went to the hospital over the weekend and talked to them relieved a lot of anxiety," Dennis said. "Barajas will probably be back in school after spring break. Neils may be out for an extended period because of the severity of her injuries."

Taking note of the presence of alcohol in the wrecked Mustang, Dennis said the school has stressed the dangers of drinking and driving repeatedly.

"We have it in our curriculum quite a bit. Kids make poor decisions, and this is something we've talked about on a regular basis and keep emphasizing on a regular basis," he explained. "We see this time and time again. I know I have in my career."

Dennis said he hoped students at the school would learn an important lesson from what happened to their classmates.

"I'm looking forward to having our students back to school as soon as possible, and hope they can talk to others to help educate them about what happened, so others can learn from their experience," Dennis said. "And I hope we don't have any more of these this year, or next year either."

Sheriff Mace said an accident like this touches almost everyone in the community.

"We all know these kids," Mace said. "As we investigate for wrongdoing, all of us are deeply concerned and wish the kids a speedy and full recovery, and our thoughts are with their families."

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