Family remembers young mother killed in fiery Windsor Hills crash

A speeding car, a sickening crunch, a ball of fire. Before anyone had time to react, a multi-vehicle crash turned a busy intersection into one of the most gruesome scenes on Los Angeles streets in recent years, leaving five people dead, including a pregnant woman, and family members searching for answers.

Investigators on Friday arrested Nicole Lorraine Linton, 37, a registered nurse, in connection with the crash in Windsor Hills.

Linton was at the wheel of a dark-colored Mercedes-Benz that was going as fast as 100 mph down La Brea Avenue when it ran a red light at the intersection with Slauson Avenue about 1:35 pm Thursday, hitting several vehicles, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The crash has left the family of 23-year-old Asherey Ryan, the pregnant woman who was killed, in disbelief.

California Highway Patrol and other officials investigated the crash site.

(Jason Armmond/Los Angeles Times)

Cotie Davis, Ryan’s youngest sister, recalled speaking with her sibling that morning.

On her way out of their South Los Angeles apartment for a doctor’s appointment, Ryan told Davis, 20, who styles hair, that she wanted to get her hair done.

“She wanted braids too, probably just like this,” Davis said, running her hands down her long black and blond braids that reached past her waist.

Ryan would ask for a different color each time, she said. She’d return, sometimes with her hair blue, other times purple.

But Thursday morning was the last time Davis would see her sister alive.

Cotie Davis, 20, sister of crash victim Asherey Ryan

Cotie Davis, 20, sister of crash victim Asherey Ryan, talks about the loss of her sister, whom she remembered as her best friend.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Within minutes of leaving the apartment, Ryan’s car was smashed by Linton’s Mercedes. Ryan, who was 8½ months pregnant, was in the car with her boyfriend and 1-year-old son.

The fiery crash left five people dead, along with Ryan’s unborn child, while onlookers and family struggled to understand exactly what happened.

Davis and her family started worrying when they hadn’t heard from Ryan for several hours.

Speaking to The Times from the doorway of the apartment where the sisters lived with their mother, Davis recalled her family’s desperate attempts to reach Ryan on Thursday.

A baby car seat lies in the intersection

A car seat lies in the intersection.

(Jason Armmond/Los Angeles Times)

Calls went straight to voicemail. Texts to her iPhone were sending green, a sign that Ryan’s phone was dead.

It didn’t make sense, Davis said. Her sister always kept a charger in the car.

She thought the worst, wondering whether her sister was in the deadly crash, her phone broken in the collision.

The gut-wrenching confirmation came in a text from a friend at the crash site. He took a photo of someone he believed to be Ryan and sent it to Davis.

It didn’t show Ryan’s face, but the image was just enough for their mother to recognize her clothes, and for Davis to recognize her feet and her tattoo.

“When you spend that much time with someone, you’re gonna know each part of them,” she said.

Yana Shmuliver wipes away a tear

“Seeing a child seat in the street is something that I’ll never forget,” said Yana Shmuliver as she wiped away a tear.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Davis and her family collapsed. Their screams drew the attention of their next-door neighbor, Josephine Harris, who ran over.

“Rey Rey is gone,” they told Harris.

Few details emerged the day after the crash.

Surveillance video shows a Mercedes-Benz barreling down La Brea at a high speed as dozens of cars cross on Slauson. The Mercedes does not appear to slow down before running a red light and slamming into cars in the intersection. It then bursts into flames and hurtles into a light pole, where it comes to rest.

After the crash, a streak of fire burned on the ground and billowing smoke could be seen from miles away.

A worker cleans up at the crash scene

A worker cleans up at the crash scene.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but Officer Franco Pepi, a California Highway Patrol spokesperson, told The Times on Thursday that investigators determined the Mercedes was traveling “at a high rate of speed” and ran a red light.

At least six vehicles were involved in the crash, Pepi said. Eight people were injured.

Authorities are checking Linton’s bloodwork to determine whether she was under the influence at the time of the crash, according to two law enforcement sources.

A member of her family declined to speak to a Times reporter Friday.

Linton was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, and prosecutors expect to file charges Monday, accusing her in the deaths of the unborn child as well as the five others.

CHP investigators estimate that her Mercedes was going 80 mph to 100 mph as it approached the junction and ran the red light, and evidence gathered so far shows no sign of braking, according to two law enforcement sources.

A specialized CHP accident investigation team is extracting data from the Mercedes’ computers that capture speed, braking and acceleration.

At least nine serious crashes have occurred along that stretch of La Brea Avenue between 2013 and 2021, according to CHP data. None have been fatal.

The LA County coroner’s office has not released the names of anyone killed in the crash except for Ryan’s.

Davis said Ryan and their other sibling, Sha’seana Kerr, were born in Los Angeles and raised in Inglewood.

In recent years, the family moved to California City, where their grandmother lives, before returning to LA

As the oldest sibling, Ryan, who went by Rey Rey, was the family’s backbone. Her birthday would have been in September; Davis followed in November.

Still, Ryan put talk of her own celebration aside, telling Davis, “Hey, sister, I already know what I’m gonna get for your birthday.”

Ryan always bragged about her sisters and their accomplishments, Davis said. She beamed with pride when she found out Davis had started studying for her college degree in criminal justice.

Ryan followed her younger sister and also joined the program, but it was Davis’ graduation that she looked forward to.

“I cannot imagine not having her at my graduation,” Davis said before bursting into tears.

Harris, the neighbor, also felt Ryan’s sudden absence. After Harris moved to LA from Arkansas two years ago, it was Ryan who immediately befriended her.

Their front doors were separated by several feet, and the two often ran into each other in the apartment hallway, where they’d talk about boyfriend drama, the struggles of pregnancy and past heartache.

Harris had lost her mother in 2019 and, before that, her brother in a house fire. In one recent conversation, Ryan knocked on Harris’ door, took a sniff and asked whether she was cooking her famous fried chicken.

“I was like, ‘Girl, I got you — I fed the first baby, so I could feed the second one,’” Harris said, referring to Ryan’s toddler and the baby still on the way.

“I wake up, I expect she gon’ come out the door,” she said.

But Harris hasn’t been able to eat or sleep since hearing the screams next door and learning her friend was dead.

“When I walk out the door, that’s the first thing I see: Rey Rey,” she said. “And it’s not there no more.”

Times staff writer Rachel Uranga contributed to this report.

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