SAN MARCOS, California (AP) — Eight incoming freshman college students from Japan were riding in a small car that ran off a California freeway and hit a power pole, killing three of them and injuring five, officials said.

All eight students were in an international program at Palomar College, where 135 Japanese students were staying with host families in the San Diego area, school president Robert Deegan said Friday.

"Any time you lose a student it's a terrible, terrible pain that many people feel has a ripple effect about it, and this is just multiplied by three," he said.

The injured students were expected to survive, Deegan said, declining to release the names of the victims.

They were in a 2000 Honda Prelude that crashed late Thursday on state Route 78 in Oceanside, California Highway Patrol Officer Jim Bettencourt said. The car went down an embankment and struck the pole, shearing it in half and leaving power lines dangling.

The 19-year-old male driver and two passengers — a man and woman — were dead at the scene. Two women and three men suffered moderate to major injuries.

Japanese students said they found Palomar through placement agencies. They hoped to perfect their English and earn course credits with an eye toward transferring, perhaps to a University of California or California State University campus.


Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed to this report.