SAN MARCOS, Calif. » Three Japanese college students were killed and five others were injured when the car they were in veered off a California freeway and struck a power pole, officials said Friday.
The eight students were trapped in the 2000 Honda Prelude after the crash late Thursday on state Route 78 in Oceanside, California Highway Patrol Officer Jim Bettencourt said.
The car went down an embankment and struck the pole, shearing it in half and leaving power lines dangling, Bettencourt said. The lines did not touch the ground.
The 19-year-old male driver and two passengers — a man and woman — were pronounced dead at the scene. Two women and three men suffered moderate to major injuries.
All were incoming freshmen in the international program at Palomar College in San Marcos, school spokeswoman Laura Gropen said.
They were among about 135 Japanese students at the San Marcos school and were staying with host families in the San Diego area, college President Robert Deegan said Friday.
"Any time you lose a student it’s a terrible, terrible pain that many people feel has a ripple effect about it, and this is just multiplied by three," he said.
The injured students were expected to survive, Deegan said. He declined to release the names of the victims and said he didn’t have any personal information about them.
Ayano Yokoyama, a first-year student from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, said the dead were among a group of students that went to a bonfire Thursday night in Oceanside. Yokoyama, 20, decided not to join them because she had other plans and she learned about the crash when a friend sent her a text message early Friday.
Students on campus Friday seemed unaware of the crash or had only heard basic details about it on television.
"I felt really bad because they just got here and started a new life in college," Kurumi Misawa, 19, of Yokohama, Japan, said while studying on a sun-drenched patio.
Japanese students said they found Palomar through placement agencies. They hoped to perfect their English and earn course credits with an eye toward transferring, perhaps to a University of California or California State University campus.
Deegan said he didn’t know the circumstances of the crash but that it raised obvious questions about why so many people were in the car, a coupe that usually seats four people.
Officers were trying to determine if any of the students were wearing seat belts, Bettencourt said.
"With that many people, there are definitely going to be some people in that car that did not have a seat belt on," he told U-T San Diego.
Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed to this report.