ORINDA, Calif. - California Highway Patrol investigators are trying to determine what prompted a driver to veer off Highway 24 and into a tree, killing all three people inside the vehicle.
Saturday afternoon, relatives of the victims the crash came to the scene in Orinda and stood in numbed disbelief. Debris litters the roadside as an indication of what happened hours earlier.
“It’s unfortunate. Really unfortunate, especially for the family. One of the boys, he had a daughter the same age as mine,” said Isaiah Maulu, a cousin of one of the victims.
He says the trio attended a social function Friday night and was headed home.
CHP investigators say around 3am, the Nissan Versa carrying the men was headed westbound on Highway 24, just before the Orinda exit. For an unknown reason, the driver veered off the roadway and directly into a tree, without braking.
“When officers arrived there were three parties inside the vehicle, the three occupants. They were not responsive,” said Sgt. Curtis Glace of the CHP – Contra Costa County office.
All three men were pronounced dead at the scene, including 22-year-old Sione Vaitafa. His big brother Chris says the Tongan church member and former Hayward football star carried the nickname “Big Teddy Bear.”
“Big kid, people would say just by looking at him because of his size. But he was a big teddy bear. Very loving. Very family orientated.”
The county coroner will release the identities of the other two victims. Investigators don’t believe alcohol was a factor, but are checking, and also looking into wet pavement from overnight rain that may have played a role.
Police say if the Nissan versa was traveling at the speed limit, barreling into a tree at that speed without breaking would be enough to claim lives.
“It is very sad that one choice, or what ever happened, now ultimate consequence, and they’re not coming home for Christmas,” said Brandon Correia, a spokesman for the CHP Contra Costa County office.
Family members are now facing funerals over the holidays.