A Maryland man surrendered to Orange County authorities Sunday and is due to appear in court Monday on multiple felony charges in what the California Highway Patrol alleges was an alcohol-fueled, multiple-vehicle New Year’s Day crash on the Garden Grove (22) Freeway that killed a mother and her 9-year-old daughter.
Melvin Cleveland Branch was originally held in lieu of $100,000 bail since his arrest Tuesday, but he was released from the Orange County Jail on Thursday as prosecutors asked investigators for more evidence.
He was charged Friday with two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, one felony count of driving with blood alcohol .08 percent or more causing bodily injury, and one misdemeanor count each of resisting/obstructing an officer and assault on a peace officer, with sentencing enhancement allegations for causing bodily injury and death to multiple victims and fleeing the scene of a crime.
A warrant was issued for Branch’s re-arrest and he surrendered to CHP officials at their Santa Ana office on Sunday, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and eight months in state prison if convicted of all charges.
Branch, who turned 30 on New Year’s Eve, was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated shortly after the 12:50 a.m. crash on the 22 Freeway east of Valley View Street.
Killed were 33-year-old Jolene Gardner and her 9-year-old daughter Payton Castillo. The girl died at the scene and her mother was pronounced dead at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange about an hour after the crash.
Branch was driving a BMW on the freeway east of Springdale Street at an “extremely high rate of speed” in the HOV lane when he rear-ended a Lexus multiple times, causing the driver to lose control and slam into the right shoulder sound barrier wall, the CHP alleged.
The Lexus driver escaped injury, but Branch then rear-ended Gardner’s 2010 Ford F-150 pickup truck, which rolled over onto its right side and skidded across the freeway into a 2003 Mazda 3 and then struck a guardrail bordering the right shoulder, the CHP reported. The Mazda driver also escaped injury.
When Branch was cleared by doctors, he was taken to jail, the CHP reported.
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