A woman who drove drunk in Santa Ana, killing a 6-year- old girl whose sister and mother were left with brain injuries, was sentenced Friday to 22 years to life in prison.
Jessicah Louise Cowan, 37, of Lake Hughes, was convicted April 15 of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run and DUI charges for killing Osmara Meza and injuring her 7-year-old sister Grecia and their mother Eloisa.
Prosecutors said Cowan had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24 percent and had two mini bottles of vodka, marijuana and a pipe in her Lexus when she struck the trio at 10:59 a.m. on June 23, 2012.
Cowan apologized to the Meza family.
“Being a mother myself, I can’t even imagine losing your baby,” she said, halting to cry at times in her statement. “I will never forgive myself, so I won’t ask you to forgive me. I am sorry for your suffering.”
Osmara’s father, Jorge Omar Meza, said in a letter read aloud in court that his family continues to struggle with the aftermath.
“It is very difficult to move forward in our lives because we are not the family we used to be,” he said. “We no longer enjoy anything and we don’t go out anymore. My daughter, Grecia, does not want to go anywhere. She just wants to be at home and feels very lonely.”
He said his surviving daughter “was destroyed from the inside and she is no longer a happy child. And I miss my daughter Osmara so much.”
Eloisa Magana said in a letter, also read in court, that her two girls “were like twins, always happy and together.”
“My family was so happy until (Cowan) crossed our paths,” she said. “The defendant ruined our lives and hers, as well. Many people thought I was going to die, too, because I sustained so many injuries and nobody expected I would survive.”
Magana said she can no longer drive or work and fights depression.
“When I was hospitalized, everybody told me to put effort in my recovery because my daughter Osmara did not want to see me in the hospital anymore, and I did everything possible in my therapies thinking I could go home to see my daughter Osmara,” she said.
“Finally, when I was able to leave the hospital, my husband told me that she was no longer with us and that she was in heaven with God. On that day I started to crumble, not caring about anything in life.”
She added, “I miss my daughter so much, sometimes I wish I could die so I could meet up with Osmara.” Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said Cowan left the crash scene at Spurgeon and 17th streets and kept driving until a witness caught up to her and blocked her way forward.
Eloisa Magana and her daughters were walking to an area restaurant that Saturday morning to get pancakes, Birney said.
Cowan sped through a red light on 17th Street at about 70 mph and kept going toward Spurgeon, where she ran another red light, the prosecutor said. As police questioned her, she claimed she wasn’t trying to run from the crash and that she hadn’t been drinking, he said.
Credit card receipts in her purse showed the defendant stopped at a liquor store and bought the two small bottles of vodka after she arrived at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and picked up her car, Birney said.
She stopped at another liquor store in Arcadia after that and spent a nearly identical amount, but there are no records of what she bought there, according to Birney.
He said records show she bought two drinks on the flight, as well.
Defense attorney Dennis O’Connell said Cowan was trying to drive to Temecula that day He conceded she had been drinking, but unsuccessfully argued that his client was not guilty of murder.
“She’s driving under the influence. When she does that, she’s thinking the same way all these other people think when they do that. The last thing on her mind is she’s going to kill someone,” he told the jury.
Cowan had no criminal record and had never undergone the type of coaching about the dangers of drinking and driving that drunken drivers must do when they are convicted, O’Connell said.
Prosecutors often charge drunken drivers with second-degree murder if they have had a prior DUI conviction because they are warned if they drive intoxicated again and someone dies, they could be charged with murder. But an implied-malice argument may be made if there are other conditions of reckless driving in place, such as excessive speeding, driving through red lights or traveling too fast for the weather conditions.
O’Connell also argued that his client was not trying to get away from the crime scene, was too drunk to understand what happened, and was not aware anyone had been struck or had died when the first officers arrived on scene.
—City News Service