Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

A San Diego woman who was texting and chatting on her cell phone before slamming her Toyota Prius into the back of an idling car on the San Diego (405) Freeway in Westminster, killing the 23-year-old driver, was convicted Thursday of gross vehicular manslaughter.

Jorene Ypanto Nicolas, 32, sobbed when the jury’s verdict was read and the judge ordered her to be taken into custody. The conviction came on Nicolas’ second trial. A separate jury last year could not reach a unanimous decision, leading to a mistrial.

Prosecutors said Nicolas sent 13 text messages in the 15 minutes before the April 27, 2011, crash and answered a phone call just before the impact.

But Nicolas’ attorney told the Orange County Superior Court jury that investigators misinterpreted data from the crash and came to the wrong conclusion about who caused it.

An Event Data Recorder — known informally as a “black box” — in Nicolas’ 2006 Prius indicated she was driving 85 mph at the time of the 10:58 a.m. collision that killed Deanna Mauer, a star softball player, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker.

From 10:42 a.m. until 10:56 a.m., there’s a record of the defendant sending 13 text messages, the prosecutor said. At 10:57 a.m., records indicate she took a call, according to Walker.

“She’s doing this actively, not paying attention, driving 20 miles per hour over the limit,” Walker said, telling jurors that northbound traffic ahead had come to a halt due to another collision.

Another motorist, who was stopped in traffic in his Porsche, looked up and noticed Mauer’s Hyundai behind him, also idling, for about 30 seconds, Walker said. He recognized the driver because he saw her earlier in traffic and thought she was “cute,” the prosecutor said.

“Then he heard an explosion,” Walker said. “Then he felt an impact to his vehicle that pinged him like a pinball.”

Jack Jeffries told investigators that Nicolas did not try to help Mauer and instead hobbled back to her car to retrieve her phone and make calls, Walker said.

Nicolas’ attorney, Joe Dane, questioned the accuracy of the computer data from the car and suggested Mauer may have caused the crash.

Nicolas previously claimed that Mauer was responsible for the crash.

“She veered into my lane, so I avoided her and I hit the center divider,” Nicolas told reporters last year after her first trial ended with a deadlocked jury. “I tried to avoid her and her car spun out and hit the center divider.”

A mistrial was declared in April 2014 when a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt on the charge of gross negligent vehicular manslaughter.

In March, the defendant told a judge she wanted to accept a plea bargain offer, but she backed out and hired Dane. Under the proposed deal from the judge, she would have faced a year in jail, 500 hours of community service and five years of probation.

She could face up to six years in prison for her conviction. Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 4.

—City News Service

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