19-year-old who died in crash described as bright and easygoing, attended Cuesta

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comJanuary 5, 2012 

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Lester Lara graduated from Paso Robles High School in 2010. He actually graduated in 2011.

The Facebook page of Lester Lara, the Paso Robles teen who died early New Year’s Day in a horrific car crash that authorities say involved alcohol, showed dozens of posts this week detailing a life of treasured memories.

“Lester was one of the most fun, easygoing guys I’ve ever known. He loved the beach, his beats, skating and anything outdoors,” friend Michaela Curran wrote to The Tribune. “He was a great brother and a friend to all.”

Lara, 19, was a passenger in a 2000 Ford Ranger that veered off the road and hit a tree after trying to pass a car traveling west on Linne Road at 3 a.m. Sunday. Lara was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the truck, which landed on him.

Authorities aren’t yet releasing where the teens were coming from, but it appears they celebrated New Year’s in a rural area east of the city and were heading to another location when the crash occurred. According to the CHP, at least six of the seven teens involved were intoxicated; two drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

In the days that have followed, many in the community have been angry at the loss related to drunken driving. But the anger has also been tinged with stories of personal friendships and a celebration of the young man’s life.

“You were the realest kid in this town, everybody loves you, you were a great friend Lester,” friend Andre Martinez posted to Lara’s Facebook wall.

Lara was a 2011 Paso Robles High School graduate and attended Cuesta College.

“I think he was going to go in undeclared and find his way,” said Paso Robles High School counselor Michael Moore, who helped Lara last year. “He was very bright, quick-witted and had a big smile … He had all the tools to be quite the adult if he just had the chance.”

On Tuesday, crowds gathered at Downtown City Park in Paso Robles to remember Lara and 21-year-old Heritage Ranch resident Vincent Mack, who also died over the holiday weekend in a vehicle crash. Many Paso Robles High School students attended.

“The service at the park came together really quickly, and even though they are numb and cried-out, it’s been amazing that people are so supportive,” Paso Robles High School teacher Jeanne Neely said after speaking with a group of juniors and seniors who gathered in the school library Thursday. Graduates have also returned to the school to share their grief. It seems most are in shock, she said.

“It’s unbelievable how you could know someone since you were a kid, and right when we all start to grow up and about to start living lives as adults, they’re gone in a blink of an eye,” friend Alexa Jaeger wrote on Lara’s Facebook page, which by Thursday evening was full of photos of Lara and friends.

The driver of the Ford Ranger, Paso Robles resident Eric Michael Luth, 20, remains at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton in critical condition.

Dozens of friends have visited him and posted on his Facebook page their hope that he pulls through. One friend wrote that it was a good sign that Luth was able to squeeze his hand at the hospital.

The hospital declined to disclose information about Luth’s condition.

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