Driver in fatal Highway 1 crash allegedly smoked synthetic marijuana

Emergency personnel take an injured person to a helicopter to be transported to the hospital after a rollover accident on Highway 1 north of Cayucos on Saturday afternoon.
Emergency personnel take an injured person to a helicopter to be transported to the hospital after a rollover accident on Highway 1 north of Cayucos on Saturday afternoon.

The driver in a deadly weekend crash that has devastated a local family was under the influence of synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice,” according to the CHP.

Tanner Noah Mengore, 22, of Los Osos, faces charges of vehicular manslaughter and felony DUI in a crash Saturday near Cayucos that killed two of his four passengers — 22-month-old Mason Simmonds-Gibson of Los Osos, and the toddler’s uncle, a 17-year-old boy from Morro Bay who was identified by his former school district and workplace as Simon Alberto Brito.

Two of Brito’s siblings, Wendi Brito, 19, and Michael Brito, 23, both of Los Osos, suffered major injuries in the rollover collision.

Mengore suffered minor injuries in the crash that occurred at about 4 p.m. on Highway 1 near Villa Creek Road. He told authorities that he had smoked synthetic marijuana, and CHP officials determined his driving was impaired, CHP Officer Richard Lee said. The drug is legal; however, driving while impaired under its influence is not.

“They were returning from a smoke shop in Cambria,” Lee said of Mengore and his passengers. “… All of them (except the toddler) had been smoking.”

Lee said Wendi Brito was babysitting Mason that day.

Wendi Brito was in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo as of Monday, said Ron Yukelson, the hospital’s spokesman. Michael Brito was in fair condition, Yukelson said.

Of the people in the car, only the driver, Mengore, was wearing a seat belt and the toddler was not strapped into a child safety seat, Lee said.

Wendi Brito is not currently facing criminal charges as authorities continue to investigate the case, Lee said.

The identity of Simon Brito, a former student at Morro Bay High School, was confirmed by San Luis Coastal Unified School District Superintendent Eric Prater on Monday.

“(Simon) had many friends that are our current students,” Prater said. “Our counselors and administrators are supporting students in need today.”

Simon Brito attended Morro Bay High last year as a sophomore but left the school to attend Pacific Beach High School in San Luis Obispo, which offers an alternative education program for students who are credit-deficient.

Morro Bay High Principal Kyle Pruitt said the tone on campus was somber Monday as news circulated about the teen’s death. Simon Brito was a busboy, dishwasher and cook at Off The Hook Seafood Grill and Sushi Bar in Morro Bay. He had worked there for about a year, said Maridee Bell, the restaurant’s owner.

“He had a lot of potential,” Bell said. “He worked two jobs when he first got here and worked double shifts at times. He was smart and could have gone on to do great things.” “Our prayers are with the family,” she added.

Simon Brito’s sister, Stace Estrella Brito, is the mother of the toddler who died in the crash and has worked at Off the Hook in Morro Bay busing tables for the past six months.

Bell described both siblings as “nice, personable, kind, gentle people” and “hard workers” who were well-liked by the staff.

According to CHP Sgt. Steven Dzida, Saturday’s crash occurred when Mengore, driving an SUV at a high rate of speed, ran over an asphalt curb on the right side of the road, swerved sharply left back onto the pavement and then careened across all lanes of the highway.

The SUV jumped the curb on the east side of the road and plowed up an embankment, hitting a tree limb and becoming airborne, Dzida said.

The vehicle rolled several times when it landed, causing three passengers — Mason, Simon Brito and Wendi Brito — to be thrown out, Dzida said.

According to their Facebook accounts, Michael Brito, Wendi Brito and Mengore all graduated from Morro Bay High.

Mengore, who was booked into County Jail on Saturday, posted $100,000 bail, according to Lee.

A toxicology test taken Saturday evening to determine the alleged level of synthesized marijuana in Mengore’s system is pending. The results are expected within 10 days.

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