Many questions remain unanswered after an early-morning car accident on April 24 that killed 18-year-old James Walsh, a first-year computer engineering major at UC Irvine and a sprinter on the school’s track and field team.
While driving along Hamner Road to his home in Norco, Calif. shortly before 1 a.m., Walsh steered his car off the road and into a ditch. The cause of the accident is unknown.
Walsh had made a call to his parents at approximately 12:58 a.m. to tell them that he was less than one mile from home.
Nineteen minutes later, at approximately 1:17 a.m., emergency operators began to receive calls from motorists reporting the accident.
At 1:28 a.m., two Riverside County deputies and a community service officer arrived at the scene, along with a tow truck. Walsh’s 2001 Oldsmobile Alero was towed from the ditch.
Dan Bernstein, a writer for the Riverside County-based newspaper The Press-Enterprise, reported that the car showed surprisingly little damage. The car was dented from having rolled over and the driver’s side window was broken, but the car was on all four wheels. The windshield was intact and no blood was visible.
Deputies did not locate Walsh’s body, and left the scene at approximately 2:00 a.m.
Apparently believing that no injuries had been sustained, authorities did not call Walsh’s parents to notify them about the accident. Riverside County policy requires that a letter be sent to the registered owner of a vehicle within one week of its impoundment.
At 6:30 a.m., James’ parents, Rick and Jeanette Walsh, realized that he had not retuned home and filed a missing persons report. They also called local towing companies to see if the car had been towed. A local tow truck company informed them of the scene of the incident.
Within 10 minutes of arriving at the accident site at approximately 2:52 p.m., Rick and Jeanette located a trail of James’ personal belongings leading from the ditch where the car had been found to his body, which lay facedown in another ditch across a narrow driveway.
They called 911 and told the operator that they had discovered their son’s body about 15 feet from the road. Authorities now report that the distance was about 30 feet.
A preliminary coroner’s report concluded that Walsh died from head injuries shortly after the accident, but the cause of death has not been formally issued. Toxicology test results will not be available for seven weeks.
Walsh’s family members wonder how deputies were unable to locate his body and if he might have survived if he had been found at the time of the accident.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is conducting an investigation to find answers to these questions.
Funeral services were held on April 29 at West Community Friends Church. Classmates from Ayala High School and UCI, teammates from UCI’s track team, friends and family filed into the church’s gym to pay respect to Walsh.
Mourners reflected on Walsh’s life and Tim Walsh, James’ younger brother, prepared a slide show to honor James.
James Walsh is survived by his parents, Rick and Jeanette, and his brothers, Chris, 12, and Tim, 15.