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Coroner identifies Tonga Prince and Princess
in fatal crash

By Tamara Barak and Erica Holt, Bay City News Service

July 7, 2006

MENLO PARK (BCN) - A visiting prince and princess from the nation of Tonga were among the three victims killed in a crash Wednesday on U.S. Highway 101 in Menlo Park, the San Mateo County coroner's office confirmed last night.

The royal pair were identified by Deputy Coroner Candace Jaeger as Prince Tuipelehake, 54, and Princess Kaimana Tuipelehake, 45.

Vinisia Hefa of East Palo Alto was identified as the driver of a Ford Explorer that carried the royal pair, the California Highway Patrol reported Wednesday. Hefa also died in the crash.

Hefa was a nanny and the Explorer belonged to her employers who are currently in Italy, Jaeger said.

Also this evening, fire officials released new details about the fatal wreck.

Deputy Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District confirmed that all three victims were wearing seat belts, and that the collapse of the roof likely killed the backseat passengers, while the driver was partially ejected and crushed by the rolling vehicle.

When their vehicle was hit from behind, "the vehicle rolled several times. At some point the front part of the car was caught on the ground and catapulted the vehicle into the air, after which it landed on its roof," Schapelhouman said.

Hefa was thrown halfway outside the driver's side window, and the vehicle came to rest partially on top of her, Schapelhouman said.

Menlo Park firefighters were first on the scene it was obvious to them that Hefa was dead, Schapelhouman said.

"At first, we thought the people in the backseat were salvageable," he said. But as rescue crews began the extrication process, cutting away the vehicle's rear door and removing the pillar between the front and back seats, it became clear the royal pair was also dead.

"They were quickly evaluated and both were deceased from significant head trauma from the rolling of the vehicle and having it land on its roof after being catapulted into the air," Schapelhouman said.

Investigators believe a teenager who may have been racing another car caused the crash.

The district attorney's office will make an announcement Friday, but reports that Edith Delgado, 18, may be facing charges in connection with the accident.

California Highway Patrol Officer Ricky Franklin reported yesterday that Delgado "just got her license in February,'' but has no prior arrests and a clean driving record.

Delgado was allegedly driving a 1998 white Ford Mustang at a fast, reckless speed around 9 p.m. on northbound U.S. Highway 101 north of Willow Road. When she came up behind the red 1998 Ford Explorer and attempted to pass it on the right, she struck the driver's side of the vehicle, causing Hefa to lose control, Franklin said.

The Explorer, moving toward the right shoulder, overturned an unknown number of times before landing on its roof, Franklin said.

"Side airbags don't always work in a rollover and there are no protective devices built into the roof of your car," Schapelhouman said.

Delgado stopped at the scene of the accident and was arrested. She is under investigation for vehicular manslaughter and a possible speed contest, Franklin reported.

According to Franklin, a black Cadillac Escalade that exited at Marsh Road, may have either seen or been involved with the collision.

The two right lanes of the highway were closed and a Sig-alert was issued for about two hours, according to the CHP.

Officers continue to investigate the incident. Anyone with information is asked to call Officer Pohrman or Officer Franklin of the CHP in Redwood City at (650) 369-6261.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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