Editor’s note: This story will be updated throughout the day as new information comes in.
A driver hit four Westlake High School students near the Thousand Oaks campus Tuesday afternoon, fatally injuring one.
The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victim as Wesley Welling, 15, of Thousand Oaks.
Ventura County Sheriff’s officials described the incident as an intentional act and said the driver had been arrested on suspicion of homicide.
The driver, identified as 24-year-old Austin Eis of Ventura County, is suspected of being involved in two other incidents Tuesday, including a stabbing at a local Walmart, authorities said.
The crash was reported shortly before 3:40 pm near Lakeview Canyon Road and East Thousand Oaks Boulevard at a bus stop near the high school campus.
Three other students were injured: two girls, ages 14 and 16, and a boy, 15.
One was reported to be in critical condition Tuesday night. Two suffered minor injuries and were treated and released at local hospitals, the sheriff’s officials said.
On Wednesday, no detailed update was available on the hospitalized student, though a spokeswoman at Ventura County Medical Center said one patient from the crash was stable.
After being cleared at a hospital, Eis was booked into the Ventura County jail early Wednesday morning. The 24-year-old was arrested on suspicion of multiple felonies including murder, attempted murder, burglary, kidnapping, drawing a gun in a threatening manner and attempted robbery, according to online booking information.
He was being held in lieu of $5.54 million bail.
Community members were planning events to help victims and their families and loved ones. Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village will host a prayer vigil Wednesday at 6 pm
“We invite everyone in the greater Conejo Valley to come together to join us in prayer,” the leaders of the church on Via Rocas said in a message to members.
“It feels very close and very personal,” said Senior Pastor Shawn Thornton of the tragedy. “People are saying that could easily have been my child there.”
A GoFundMe campaign to raise funeral expenses for Welling exceeded $156,000 by 3:30 pm Wednesday.
Lead-up to crash
Authorities believe Eis was linked to a stabbing and assault earlier in the day at a Walmart in Simi Valley and to a subsequent domestic dispute in Camarillo.
The series of crimes started around 2:40 pm when the suspect apparently stabbed a store employee and assaulted a second worker at the Walmart at 255 W. Cochran St., according to the Simi Valley Police Department. The employee, who suffered at least one stab wound, was being treated at a trauma center.
Eis reportedly fled the Walmart in a white Toyota Camry with a missing bumper. Witnesses provided police with the license plate number. The Simi department sought help from the sheriff’s office and the California Highway Patrol as they searched for the car.
After leaving the Walmart, Eis reportedly fled to Camarillo, where he is suspected of being involved in a domestic dispute with family members, later described as his parents, officials said. No injuries were reported.
The sheriff’s office received a report of a disturbance at the house around 3 pm, Cmdr. Garo Kuredjian said. Eis reportedly brandished a handgun at the home.
Eis afterward went to Thousand Oaks, where the students were struck, police said. At the crash site, an overturned white car had come to rest on its roof.
Agencies had been looking for the vehicle, but there was no pursuit at any time during the incidents, authorities said.
A city of residence for Eis wasn’t provided. Kuredjian described him as a Ventura County resident.
Caleb Hearne, 14, was waiting for the bus before the crash. The high school freshman said the driver made a quick swerve on the road and was headed straight toward the students before the car flipped.
Mark McLaughlin, superintendent of the Conejo Valley Unified School District, sent a message about the traffic collision late Tuesday afternoon, which he said happened when a vehicle drove off the road and “struck a group of Westlake High School students who were walking on the sidewalk .”
“It is with a heavy heart that I write this message,” McLaughlin wrote, saying his thoughts and prayers were with the students, their families and the Warrior community. In an update after the fatality was confirmed, McLaughlin said a team of counselors would be at Westlake High and other district campuses Wednesday.
Thousand Oaks Boulevard was closed from Via Merida to Westlake Boulevard as the sheriff’s investigators worked the scene. The sheriff’s agency is contracted to provide police services in Thousand Oaks.
School staff sat in a golf cart Wednesday near the crash site at the intersection, keeping an eye out as students crossed. One said it was a special precaution, “just for now.”
The sheriff’s officials said Wednesday Eis was a former student at Westlake High.
Around 7:30 pm Tuesday, the scene had been eerily quiet along Thousand Oaks Boulevard as investigators worked inside an area cordoned off by police tape. The Camry rested upside down next to a bus stop, resting against the curb. Media crews were staged in the parking lot of a nearby business center.
Shortly before 9 pm, mourners started gathering in front of the Westlake High School sign, which stands diagonally across the intersection from the accident site.
Some lit candles and brought flowers. After a few students and parents initially arrived, more than 100 people streamed down Lakeview Canyon Road to join the vigil. The large gathering stood in silence for a time, observing the line of glowing candles and flower bouquets.
On Wednesday, Christian Morales, a 14-year-old Westlake High freshman, said he was picked up from the intersection by a parent shortly after the collision.
“I was unsure of what happened,” Morales said. “I thought it was just an accident.”
He didn’t realize until after he left campus that his friend had been fatally injured.
“He was a very kind, smart person,” Morales said of Welling. “He was always looking out for others, putting people before him.
“He never caused any harm to anyone. He was always just calm, playful.”
On Wednesday, as the stack of flowers grew larger in front of the Westlake High sign, Wesley’s mother, Kelly Welling, and siblings Hannah and Cody spoke with reporters.
Kelly Welling said it was her birthday Tuesday. Wesley had been at the bus stop with his sister Hannah when he was struck, she said.
“By some miracle, my daughter wasn’t standing right next to him because it could have been both of them,” Kelly Welling said. “She’s OK, but she witnessed it.”
“Everybody loved him,” the mother said. “I’m finding out how many more people love him than I already know about this whole thing.”
On Wednesday, the bus stop stood empty, blocked off by police tape and orange cones. Its post metal was caved in half where the car had struck. A sign on the post said the stop was closed and riders should go to a temporary stop across the street.
The growing memorial outside the school campus, meanwhile, drew friends, family and strangers.
Haidyn Thrasher, 15, a sophomore at Agoura High, said a friend’s friend was one of the injured students. She pulled up a social media post on her phone showing a boy with scattered bandages leaning back in a recliner and flashing a peace sign, with the caption: “He good.”
“It just made me really sad,” Thrasher said after laying a bouquet at the memorial.
Peter George, 43, of Thousand Oaks, also brought flowers. He said he had no direct connection to the school but thought of his 10- and 13-year-old children when he read the news.
“My kid walks to school. I think about them,” he said. Bringing flowers felt like the right thing to do, he added. “It doesn’t end here. There’s a ripple effect. Everyone has to live with it.”
Kaden Youmans, a 17-year-old Westlake junior, stopped by on his own with flowers.
“It’s very close to home, that’s what affected me so much,” Youmans said in a text. “He was just going to the bus stop. I can’t do much except pray and bring flowers.”
Youmans drives to school these days, but said: “I walked that street countless times as an underclassman.”
Youmans was playing in a baseball game at another school when he heard about the crash from his coach after the game ended. He then headed to Tuesday night’s vigil.
“It was a beautiful thing, seeing our community come together,” he said.
This story will be updated.
Cheri Carlson covers the environment and county government for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at [email protected] or 805-437-0260.
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at [email protected] or 805-437-0255.
— Staff writers Isaiah Murtaugh and Gretchen Wenner contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Car hits several high school students in Thousand Oaks, California