One teenager killed, two others injured in ATV crash in Merced county, CHP confirms

A 16-year-old girl from Le Grand died in Merced County following a low-speed all-terrain vehicle collision in which several teens weren’t wearing helmets, according to California Highway Patrol.

The girl was identified Monday by the Madera County Sheriff’s Office as 16-year-old Le Grand High junior Leslie Avila of Le Grand. Initially, law enforcement reported the victim’s age as 15 but later confirmed she was 16 years old.

“(Leslie) was a very joyful person,” said Le Grand High Principal Javier Martinez, adding Leslie “big smile” always made someone’s day. “She was well liked and respected by all students.”

Leslie was most recently a grand champion at the Merced County Fair after she showed her lamb, Martinez said, adding Leslie was active with the school’s FFA and Ag Academy.

CHP Merced officers responded to an ATV collision at about 7:45 p.m. Saturday in Planada, Officer Eric Zuniga said.

A 14-year-old girl was driving a 2005 Suzuki ATV west on Arguello Drive, west of Moreno Court when she slowed down to take a left onto a private driveway, Zuniga said.

Another ATV being driven at about 25 mph by a 17-year-old boy with Leslie as a passenger was behind the first ATV and didn’t slow down, resulting in a rear-end collision, Zuniga said.

Leslie and the two drivers were thrown from the vehicles, Zuniga said. The drivers reported moderate injuries and were released to their parents at the scene.

But Leslie suffered a major head injury and was flown to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera County, Zuniga said. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Drugs or alcohol were not considered to be factors in the collision. Zuniga said the crash could have had a different outcome if the teens were wearing helmets.

“Wear the helmet,” Zuniga said. “This crash wasn’t at a higher rate of speed. But it shows that you can still have significant injuries or death at lower rates of speed.”

The impact of the crash affects the entire Le Grand community, said Luciana Chavez, a Le Grand High School District board member.

“(Leslie) has a very large family,” Chavez said. “It’s such a small community, school. It’s devastating because you know the kids and families. ... Leslie was a great kid, she was active and she had a lot of great friends.”

The Le Grand Bulldogs Athletics Facebook page, an independently run page that supports the high school’s students, also shared a message to the community regarding the crash along with a photograph of a junior varsity cheerleading squad Leslie participated in during her freshman year.

Courtesy Le Grand Bulldogs Athletics Facebook

The school has counselors available for friends, family and members of the community, Martinez said. Anyone in need of assistance is being urged to contact the school for help at either 209-389-9400 or 209-389-9403.

Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.