2003-05-08 / Front Page

Community mourns loss of Westlake High student killed in car wreck

By John Loesing
Acorn Staff Writer

Community mourns loss of Westlake High student killed in car wreck By John Loesing Acorn Staff Writer

MICHAEL COONS/The Acorn  A TIME FOR  HUGS--Lisa Burch, left, mother of Nicole Johnson, hugs friends during a memorial for her daughter at Westlake High School on Monday. More than 350 students and family members were at the memorial to remember Nicole who died Friday from injuries suffered in a traffic collision last Thursday.MICHAEL COONS/The Acorn A TIME FOR HUGS--Lisa Burch, left, mother of Nicole Johnson, hugs friends during a memorial for her daughter at Westlake High School on Monday. More than 350 students and family members were at the memorial to remember Nicole who died Friday from injuries suffered in a traffic collision last Thursday.

Teacher Christina Harrison’s first day on the job at Westlake High School was the first day of Nicole Johnson’s sophomore year.

The two experienced an immediate connection and began what appeared to a long-lasting friendship.

But the special relationship between student and teacher ended tragically May 2 when Johnson, 17, was pronounced dead from severe injuries of an automobile crash the day before.

Johnson was stopped at a red light at Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Lakeview Canyon Road in Westlake Village when a BMW driven by 31-year-old Diane Shakhov failed to stop and slammed into her, police said.

Johnson’s Volkswagen Jetta was hurled into a utility pole.

More than 350 people gathered Monday afternoon at Westlake High School for a memorial service in Johnson’s memory. Friends and school officials spoke in glowing terms about Nicole’s accomplishments in school, in church and in sports, while members of the audience wept.

"To say that Nicole was kind does not do her justice," Harrison said. She was a friend to anybody … Seeing her bounce into my classroom put a smile on my face."

Nicole was a top student at the high school and active at her church, St. Paschal Baylon. An outstanding athlete, Nicole was scheduled to run four events at last Friday’s Ventura County Track and Field Championships, they day she died. She was one of the school’s top competitors in the 100 and 200 meters.

During a Marmonte League track and field meet Tuesday at Royal High School, one lane was left open and flowers laid in Nicole’s memory.

Harrison said Nicole touched many people, both on and off the field. The tragedy served to bring them closer, she said.

"I’ve see her friends draw strength from each other over the last few days," Harrison said. "I have seen them treat each other with more kindness."

She added that Nicole once wrote, "I’ve met wonderful people by just sticking out my hand."

"She must have done that a lot," Harrison said.

Westlake senior Zach Verdin, a close friend, said he enjoyed jet skiing with Nicole on the serene waters of Lake Nacimiento not long before her death.

"I truly believe that in 17 years, Nicole touched more people that I will in my entire life," Verdin said. He advised his fellow students to "take her legacy of living life to the fullest."

The high school memorial service included Julia Blumenthal performing a special song that she wrote for the occasion. Afterward, the school choir sang.

Friends were allowed to share their memories at an open microphone and a ceremonial tree planting was held.

Meanwhile, Thousand Oaks police said an investigation into the accident continues. Sgt. Patti Salas wouldn’t say whether drugs or alcohol contributed to Shakhov’s failure to stop at the intersection. "I’m not going to share that information yet," Salas said. "That’s considered evidentiary."

Shakhov, an Agoura Hills resident, suffered facial, chest and leg injuries. Both she and Johnson were taken to Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.

"It’s just a tragedy of tragedies," said Ron Lipari, Westlake High School principal. "There’s just no way to put it into words."

Lipari said in lieu of flowers, donors are asked to contribute to the Westlake High School Scholarship Foundation. More than $2,000 has been collected from the class of 2003 alone, he said.

To help generate dollars to be donated to the scholarship fund in Nicole’s name, there will be two booths at Conejo Valley Days starting this evening that will donate all profits to the fund.

Westlake High students have volunteered to man a deep-fried Twinkie and a Hoop Block booth. Both booths will be open for all four days of the extended Conejo Valley Days going from today through Sunday.

Services were yesterday at St. Paschal’s.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of Nicole’s family," Lipari said. "She will always live in our hearts."

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