South City mourns young car crash victims 

One was named for Halley’s Comet; the other for a Grateful Dead song. A third teenager from South San Francisco killed in a violent car accident in Vacaville this weekend had previously survived an accident that cost her one of her legs.

Nineteen-year-olds Halley Gelpke and Katelynd Galloway-Smith, both of South San Francisco and students at City College of San Francisco, and 20-year-old Carlos Reyes were headed to Lake Tahoe on Saturday morning to show 16-year-old South San Francisco High School junior Stella Blue Kraft the snow — something she’d never experienced before. None of them made it to the mountains.

Shortly after 11:30 a.m. Saturday on eastbound Interstate 80, Gelpke lost control of the 1993 Toyota Corolla she was driving at approximately 70 miles per hour and careened up the embankment separating the eastbound and westbound roads.

The Corolla vaulted the guardrail and slammed head-on into a 1999 Ford Expedition, which then exploded into a "ball of fire," killing its driver, CHP Officer Willie Williford said. Four other vehicles wereinvolved in the crash, with injuries ranging from extremely critical to minor, he said.

Gelpke and Kraft were pronounced dead at the scene, and Galloway-Smith was taken off life-support Sunday. Reyes is recuperating in the hospital with back and spine injuries, said Gordon Kraft, Stella’s father.

Kraft’s death is the second in a week for the high school community, which lost 16-year-old Josue Zendejas, who had moved to Hayward with his family in October, in a Jan. 13 car accident involving a drunk driver, according to a parent.

Principal Michael Coyne said they were still working on a way to memorialize Kraft. A moment of silence was held for Zendejas during daily announcements last week.

Police allegedly found marijuana and a half-empty bottle of vodka inside the Corolla. They said they wouldn’t know more until the Solano County Coroner’s toxicology report comes out.

The state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is investigating where the teens might have obtained the vodka, but friends and family said there was no way Gelpke was driving under the influence.

"She definitely would never, ever drink and drive," said Michelle Ruiz, 20, a friend who remembered their favorite song: singer Al Green’s "Let’s Stay Together."

"When she got excited about something, it showed." Ruiz said. "And even when things weren’t going so well she was very positive about things."

Gelpke and Kraft had been best friends since the very beginning of Kraft’s life, when Gelpke, then three years old, cradled Kraft in her arms at the hospital when she was born, Gordon Kraft, Stella’s father, said.

"They were best friends for life and they died instantly together in a car crash," Kraft said.

He said he named his daughter after the Grateful Dead tune "Stella Blue," which they were playing during their Shoreline concert at the exact moment shewas born.

Galloway-Smith, a trumpet player with a habit of calling those she encountered "Boo," survived a childhood accident to become an irreplaceable part of the close-knit group of friends, Ruiz said.

E-mail David Smith at dsmith@examiner.com.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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