Jury deliberations began Thursday in the trial of a 21-year-old felon accused of driving drunk and causing a head-on collision that killed two people in northeastern Riverside County, north of Desert Center.
Austin Bly Ellington was 18 at the time of the June 29, 2018, crash on state Route 62, east of state Route 177, that killed one of his passengers and the driver of another vehicle.
The Anza resident faces a maximum prison sentence of 32 years and four months if convicted of two counts of DUI gross vehicular manslaughter and one count each of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury and driving with a blood-alcohol content exceeding .08% causing bodily injury, along with several sentence-enhancing allegations.
The prosecution and defense made their closing arguments Thursday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, after which Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Hawkins sent the jury behind closed doors to begin weighing evidence presented during the roughly two-week trial.
According to prosecutors, Ellington and several others departed from Anza that day headed in a multi-vehicle caravan toward Parker, Arizona, to celebrate the Fourth of July at Lake Havasu.
Prosecutors allege that the crash occurred several hours into the excursion, as Ellington was allegedly passing vehicles on the two-lane thoroughfare while driving above the speed limit.
According to California Highway Patrol Officer Jackie Quintero, Ellington’s eastbound truck entered the westbound lane and slammed head-on into another pickup driven by 57-year-old Banning resident David Brian Chance, who died at the scene. Mariah Garcia, 20, of Anza, was riding in Ellington’s truck and also died at the scene, the officer said.
Ellington and another of his passengers were airlifted to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs for treatment of what were described as major injuries.
Deputy District Attorney Karen Salas played for jurors a video posted to Snapchat by one of the occupants traveling in the defendant’s truck the day of the crash, which the prosecutor said shows the defendant driving with an apparent beer bottle between his legs.
During his closing argument, defense attorney Eduardo Madrid disputed the prosecution’s characterization of the defendant’s final pass attempt, citing witness testimony that the defendant made a legal pass attempt that would have been successful had the other motorist not sped up in order to block Ellington from getting ahead.
Madrid also disputed the validity of the results of blood tests, citing procedural irregularities, and accused the CHP officers involved of botching the investigation.
Two blood samples taken 2 1/2 hours after the crash, one by the hospital and another by an external laboratory, showed the defendant’s blood-alcohol content at .10% and .08%, respectfully, according to court papers.
Ellington was arrested on July 17, 2018, at the hospital, more than two weeks after the crash.
He is awaiting trial on a felony case from April 2018 that includes allegations that he discharged a firearm in a negligent manner.
The criminal complaint filed by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office says Ellington has a prior felony conviction of “moral turpitude” that he committed when he was underage. Additional information about that crime was not available.
Ellington remains out of custody after posting $220,000 bail.
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