A man who the authorities contend deliberately crashed his car into another one on a Southern California road last Sunday, killing three of the six teenagers inside, did so because the group had played a so-called doorbell ditch prank on him, prosecutors said this week.
The man, Anurag Chandra, 42, faces several murder charges for his role in the Temescal Canyon Road crash, which the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said on Thursday occurred after the boys played a doorbell ditch prank on him.
In a doorbell ditch, also commonly known as a ding-dong-ditch, a person rings a doorbell and tries to run away before anyone opens the door.
After one of the boys had been dared, all six teenagers drove to a nearby home on Mojeska Summit Road in Corona, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the district attorney’s office said, citing the California Highway Patrol’s investigation. The boy rang the doorbell and returned to the 2002 Prius that they were riding in, and the group took off.
But Mr. Chandra, who lives at the home, chased after them in his 2019 Infiniti Q50, prosecutors said. His car rammed into the back of the Prius, “causing it to veer off the road and into a tree,” prosecutors said.
Daniel Hawkins, Jacob Ivascu and Drake Ruiz, all 16-year-old passengers, were killed in the crash, prosecutors said. The 18-year-old driver and two other boys, ages 13 and 14, were injured but survived.
“The circumstances in this case are unusual,” John Hall, a spokesman with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, said in an email on Friday night. “Based on the evidence in this case, the response and actions taken by the defendant are egregious and extremely disproportionate to a teen ringing a doorbell and running away.”
Mr. Chandra was scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday, but “it was continued at the request of the defense,” Mr. Hall said. A new arraignment has been scheduled for Feb. 21, he said.
Mr. Chandra “is being held on no bail because this is a potential death penalty case,” Mr. Hall said. “That is because we have alleged a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, making him eligible for the death penalty.”
District Attorney Mike Hestrin of Riverside County will decide whether to seek the death penalty at a later date, he said.
Phone calls and messages to numbers listed for Mr. Chandra were not immediately returned on Friday night. Calls and messages on Friday to the public defender’s office, which represented him in court on Thursday, were not immediately returned.
Speaking to NBC4 in Los Angeles, a bandaged and still-healing Sergio Campusano, the driver of the Prius, said in an interview this week that he had blacked out after the driver of the Infiniti “rammed his car into my back” and his head whipped into his window.
Describing the prank, which Mr. Campusano said the group came up with during a sleepover, one of the boys was dared to “either jump into a pool at night or go ding-dong-ditch a house.”
After the boys drove away from house where the doorbell was rung, the group saw a man from the home following them, and Mr. Campusano said the other car got “really, really close.”
“I was like, ‘What is this guy doing?’” Mr. Campusano, who tried to drive away from the Infiniti, told the TV station. “Then I felt like a nudge forward, like he hit me from the back.”
“When he rammed us from the side, I thought, I was like, if anything happens, I love these guys,” said Mr. Campusano, who described the close-knit group of friends as “all a part of me.”
The group had been celebrating Jacob’s birthday over the weekend, the TV station reported.