After crash, Placer High open campus continues

Eight students involved in rollover during lunch
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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Like many other Placer High School students, Christina Lehigh climbed into a vehicle with her friends to head out for lunch when the bell rang at 12: 45 Tuesday afternoon.

That has been the norm at Placer High for years. If students are old enough and hold a license to drive by themselves, they can leave campus for lunch.

"I love it, it gives us a lot of freedom and makes us different from other schools," Lehigh, 17, said.

The open campus policy at Placer High allows students to leave for lunch every day starting at 12:45. They have to be back by the time the bell rings at 1:15 except on days when there is a home football game when lunch is extended by 15 minutes.

Such was the case two Fridays ago when eight Placer High students piled into a Chevy Trailblazer. Four of the students in the car were soccer players and at least two were cheerleaders.

As the Trailblazer entered Interstate 80 before the Elm Avenue exit it came in contact with a passing tractor-trailer and then hit a nearby guardrail, causing the vehicle to flip. Six of the students in the car were transported to area hospitals, one of which was partially ejected from the Trailblazer and flown to Sutter Roseville Medical Center via Calstar.

Since then, five of those students have been released from the hospital and are back at school, according to Principal Peter Efstathiu. The student who was flown from the scene of the accident, Andrew Carducci, a varsity soccer player, was discharged from Sutter Roseville Medical Center on Monday, according to Robin Montgomery, spokesperson for the hospital.

Dave Brown, soccer coach at Placer High, said after the accident that Carducci has a fractured skull and a bad concussion. In an email on Sunday Brown said Carducci would be taken to a rehab center and that doctors are expecting a full recovery, though he won't be able to play soccer this year.

No new information is available about the crash, according to Sgt. David Martinez, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol. A press release by the California Highway Patrol after the accident said the 17-year-old driver "failed to maintain control of the Trailblazer" when it hit the tractor-trailer, but the reason why is still under investigation.

Placer Union High School District Superintendent Dave Horsey said since the accident he has discussed the accident with the board and has received a written letter from a parent concerned about the open campus policy.

"I think his major concern is for the safety of the students, and so is ours," Horsey said. "I also think he's concerned about the students feeling rushed."

Efstathiu said no parents or members of the community have approached him about the open campus policy, but students have been offered counseling and were reminded to give themselves plenty of time if they choose to leave campus.

"People need to be more careful and not drive with eight people in the car," Lehigh said.

Efstathiu also said an upcoming program through Union Pacific meant to educate students about driving safely around railroad crossings will also include safe driving skills in general.

He also said he didn't think the students in the accident were rushed, so the amount of time they have to get to and from school during lunch shouldn't be an issue.

"I don't think that had anything to do with it. They weren't coming back from somewhere late; the accident happened very early during lunch," Efstathiu said.

The logistics of closing Placer High's campus during lunch are complicated, according to Horsey. In addition to the two campus monitors, prevention resource officer and administrators who currently roam the campus, more would have to be done to ensure students don't wander during lunch.

"It is a unique campus in that it crosses several city blocks and it's not as though it's on set-aside acreage like some of our other schools," Horsey said. "The Placer High campus would be difficult to maintain that way."

He added that if the campus were to be closed, it could cost $100,000 or more to build fencing around it.

Placer High is the only school in the Placer Union High School District that has an open campus policy for lunch, according to Horsey.

Colfax High School Principal Rick Spears is in his 17th year at his school. He said more than 20 years ago Colfax High School had an open campus policy, but that changed after a student was killed in an accident on the way back to lunch one day.

Since then, Spears said there hasn't been a problem with Colfax High having a closed campus during lunch.

At Placer High, Arla Gibson, 16, was another student getting into her car with a group of friends to get lunch off campus on Tuesday. She doesn't think the accident that happened recently on Interstate 80 should impact the rest of the student body.

"Just because one student made a mistake does not mean we should all be punished," Gibson said.

Erin Petruzzi, 14, sat in the grass with some of her friends enjoying a lunch from school that same day. She only walks off campus sometimes, but hopes to still be able to drive into town for lunch when she eventually gets a license.

"I don't think all of us should have to suffer because of one person's wrongdoings," Petruzzi said.

Contact Amber Marra at Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.