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Autistic 17-year-old killed in car crash with father ‘never lost the pureness’

Carmel Valley resident Maanav Kooner, 17, smiles with his mother, Dr. Banita Sehgal, in this photo from January 2019. Maanav and his father, Dr. Rajnish Kooner, died in a solo-car crash in Carmel Valley on April 10.
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The mother of a teenager killed in a car crash last week shared memories of him Tuesday, April 14.

Seventeen-year-old Maanav Kooner “was my angel,” his mother, Dr. Banita Sehgal, said. “He wasn’t made for this world. He was too perfect.”

Maanav, who was on the autism spectrum but was high-functioning, died hours after a high-speed crash on a rain-slicked Carmel Valley road.

His father, 49-year-old Dr. Rajnish Kooner, had been driving the car and died at the scene. Maanav’s sister, 15-year-old sophomore Mia Kooner, survived with little injury.

Mia climbed from her father’s black BMW sedan — sheared nearly in two when it slammed into a tree on Carmel Canyon Road just before 8 a.m. Friday morning, April 10 — and flagged down a passing car for help.

“Mia is unbelievably brave and strong,” her mother said. “She knew what she needed to do (after the crash) and she is unbelievable.”

On Tuesday, April 14, San Diego Police Sgt. Timothy Underwood of the department’s traffic division said the crash remains under investigation.

Maanav survived for a few hours after the crash, his mother said. She was by his side when he died.

Sehgal said Maanav had been diagnosed on the autism scale at just 18 months old, and even as he grew older, he “never lost the pureness.”

He was set to graduate from Torrey Pines High School this semester. But like every other school student, Maanav had been at home these last few weeks as schools were closed because of the novel coronavirus. Sehgal said that extra time to spend with her son had been a blessing.

Kooner had been an urgent care physician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. He was there from July 2002 until he retired from practicing medicine in February 2018, the healthcare system said. (Authorities had initially said Kooner was 50 years old.)

Kooner and Sehgal had met while in medical school and later married, but had since divorced.

For Maanav, Best Buddies International, which benefits people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, had played an important role in his life. He made friends there, with kids with special needs as well as those in the mainstream.

Within hours of Maanav’s death, Sehgal, a doctor of internal medicine, began a fundraiser for the organization, on behalf of her son. It took just 72 hours to pass her goal of $20,000.

— Teri Figueroa is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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