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Birthday Celebration Takes Tragic Turn As Fiery Crash Claims 3 Lives

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STUDIO CITY (CBSLA.com) — Police say three young people have been killed in a fiery crash in Studio City.

The accident on Ventura Boulevard near Tujunga Avenue occurred about 3:35 a.m. Sunday.

According to authorities, the trio was traveling in a BMW that lost control and struck several trees before crashing into Reno’s Pizzeria in the 11400 block of Ventura Boulevard.

The impact of the collision sheared a gas line.

“The vehicle and the building erupted in flames due to the gas and the volatility of the collision,” said Lt. Andrew Neiman of the LAPD. “Tragically, the occupants that were in the vehicle were unable to escape the accident and perished as a result.”

Friends of the victims told Louisa Hodge, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, that they were celebrating their friend Jason Shmelnik’s 21st birthday at Romanov, a Russian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley.

Alexander, a friend of the victims, said the group planned to continue the celebration at a friend’s home, KNX 1070’s Ed Mertz reported.

The friends identified the victims as Shmelnik,  the driver Pavel Volodkovich (known as Pasha), and Ekaterina Botvinieva. The men were from Los Angeles and the 23-year-old woman was visiting from New York.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is under way but police say they believe speeding played a role.

Jeff Nguyen, also reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, spoke to devastated victims of the three people who were killed.

Kliem Sinelnikov, a friend said, “I logged into Facebook today and one of his friends wrote down that Jason had passed away.”

Police say Volodkovich was driving too fast on Ventura Boulevard, near Tujunga, when lost control. The car slammed into several trees and then the car slammed into a gas line at Reno’s Pizzeria.

The impact ignited a fireball.

ekaterina botvinieva Birthday Celebration Takes Tragic Turn As Fiery Crash Claims 3 Lives

Ekaterina Botvinieva photographed last night at a friend’s birthday party.

Troy Aquino, a witness, said “When I was calling 911. You could see that the driver, he was screaming for help.”

Reno’s owner Nick Tsaturyan could not contain his emotions following the deadly crash. His son says he’s grateful the accident didn’t happen during business hours.

Yarvand Tsaturyan says, “If there was anybody here… It got really hot here. The TV is melted over there. That’s how hot it got, because of the blast. Very fortunate that it was in the middle of the night.”

Police are investigating if alcohol played a role in the crash. Friends say the driver was drinking at the party. One friend told Nguyen someone tried to take Volodkovich’s car keys away but he insisted he was okay to drive.

Rachel Kim, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, spoke to some of the victim’s friends Sunday evening.

There, they shared personal info and remembrances of their friends.

One told her Jason Shmelnik was an avid dancer who five years ago was showcased on “Dancing With the Stars” as part of a “Champion Kids” young dancer’s segment. Another told her that Pavel Volodkovich was a dedicated businessman.

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