Three Japanese exchange students died and five others were injured after a teenager drove down an embankment and crashed into a power pole Thursday night in Oceanside, California.
California Highway Patrol officers say before the incident, the students were at a beach in Oceanside for a student-organized event. Many had gotten there by Sprinter train, but since the service stopped at 10 p.m., some had no way to get back to Palomar Community College.
One 19-year-old student, who had a five-seater Honda Prelude, offered to give those left behind a ride, which they accepted.
They loaded into the small car -- two in the front and six in the back.
The eight people, ages 18 to 22, then traveled eastbound on SR-78 east of El Camino Real at an unknown speed when the driver veered off the road for an unknown reason just before 11 p.m., according to official reports.
He crashed into a power pole, splitting it in half. The driver of the car and two others, a male and female, were killed, while two women and three men suffered non-life threatening injuries.
Four were taken to local hospitals via ground ambulance and one was flown to Palomar Hospital. CHP officials said four of the five have moderate injuries. One had serious injuries.
All of the people in the car were first-year, incoming exchange students from Japan attending Palomar Community College, school officials said.
The CHP said there was a language and cultural barrier between officers and the students, so it was difficult to determine exactly why the driver crashed. One person said man behind the wheel went to change lanes and then suddenly made a sharp turn off the road.
Students on campus were just beginning to learn about the crash when school officials confirmed the connection to NBC 7.
Palomar College President Robert Deegan said this is the first time the campus has suffered a tragedy involving so many students in his time at the campus.
"We want to express our heartfelt condolensces to the families and friends of these students," said Deegan. "We've lost three members of the Palomar family and we are truly reeling from the loss."
The crash remains under investigation, and it is not known if alcohol or drugs played a factor in the incident. Officials say they also don’t know if the occupants were wearing seatbelts.
A Sig Alert was issued as San Diego Gas & Electric crews work to replace the pole. All but one lane was open.
Eight customers in the area lost power due to the crash, which SDG&E expects to restore by 8:30 a.m.