The 19-year-old Paso Robles man who died in a suspected drunken-driving crash early New Year’s Day has been identified as Lester Klyne Lara, CHP officer Bill Irons said Wednesday.
Lara was a passenger in a 2000 Ford Ranger traveling west on Linne Road east of Paso Robles at 3 a.m. Sunday.
Driver Eric Michael Luth, 20, reportedly crashed the Ford after trying to pass a slower vehicle, identified as a 2006 Mitsubishi sedan.
Lara was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the Ford, which ultimately struck a large oak tree and landed on him, causing fatal injuries, Irons said.
Another passenger, 18-year-old Erin Ju Chon of Paso Robles, was not injured. Information on whether she was intoxicated was not available.
Luth, arrested on suspicion of felony driving under the influence, remained at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton in critical condition Wednesday, authorities said.
The driver of the Mitsubishi, 18-year-old Tanner Storsteen, was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor DUI after the incident. The responding CHP officer determined that Storsteen’s three passengers were all under the influence of alcohol as well, Irons said. Their names were not released, but Irons confirmed that their ages ranged from 18 to 20.
Because of what Irons called “gray areas” in state law, he said that underage drinking alone was not enough to arrest the passengers and they were not cited.
“Typically it’s not criminal unless they are unable to care for their own safety, similar to a drunk-in-public offense,” Irons said.
The passengers also didn’t have containers of alcohol with them, which would have allowed officers to arrest them on possessing an open container.
The responding officer released the three passengers to “responsible adults”; Irons did not know whether they were all released to parents.
The drivers and passengers in both cars were all wearing seat belts except for Lara, Irons said.
The investigation is ongoing, and authorities are looking into whether the two groups were coming from the same area. Irons declined to disclose whether either group was coming from a party.