Two young women who suffered lasting injuries when a drunken driver slammed into their SUV near Desert Hot Springs appeared in court Friday to confront the driver, where one of them recounted her initial several-week hospital stay, which included an invasive surgery due to a ruptured intestine.
“I don’t want to call it an accident, because it wasn’t an accident. An accident is accidentally bumping into someone’s bumper because you were going too fast — not drinking on a Tuesday afternoon,” Aramaya Ruiz said.
Ruiz, who was 18 at the time, was driving her Nissan Rogue about 2:30 p.m on April 16, 2019, while her friend, then-17-year-old Danielle Linares, was seated in the passenger seat.
They were traveling on Mountain View Road — having just met up to eat at a Chipotle restaurant in celebration of completing another year of high school — when a sedan driven by Ingeborg Binninger, 69, hit them head-on.
The crash killed Binninger’s husband, 64-year-old Douglas Binninger, and sent the two young women to the hospital.
Ruiz and Linares delivered their victim impact statements at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Binninger on Friday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
Sentencing was subsequently continued to Jan. 8, where Binninger — who remains in custody without bail — could be sentenced to up to 13 years and four months in state prison, according to prosecutors.
Binninger previously pleaded guilty to felony charges of DUI gross vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury and driving with a blood-alcohol content exceeding the legal limit of .08% causing bodily injury, along with several sentence-enhancing allegations.
During Friday’s hearing, defense attorney David Greenberg argued for reduced punishment for his client, citing her lack of a criminal record, and her promise to quit both drinking, and, driving, especially in combination.
Binninger’s blood-alcohol limit was measured at .13 — nearly twice the legal limit of .08 — in the hospital following the collision, according to court documents.
A declaration in support of an arrest warrant prepared by California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas De Young said when he asked if she had been drinking, the hospitalized defendant told the officer that she drank a margarita during lunch about three hours prior to the crash.
“The blood of your husband is on your hands,” Linares told Binninger during the Friday hearing. “I hope that drink was worth it.”
Linares said that while she has since recovered from her physical injuries, she still suffers psychological effects from the crash. These include a reluctance to learn to drive, as well as consistent anxiety while traveling as a passenger while other people drive.
Ruiz suffers permanent pain and numbness, and has had to undergo multiple surgeries stemming from the crash, she told the court.
“I had a young and healthy 18-year-old body but it’s just been damaged so severely,” Ruiz said.
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