Second-degree murder, DUI and hit-and-run charges were filed Thursday against a 22-year-old woman accused of driving drunk and causing a Newport Beach crash that killed a Santa Ana couple and left their three young daughters hospitalized.
Grace Elizabeth Coleman of Newport Beach, who was also arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence during the summer, is facing two murder counts and one count each of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, DUI with a blood-alcohol level exceeding the legal limit of .08% causing injury, and failing to stop at a hit-and-run accident with injury or death, all felonies.
She is also charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a blood-alcohol content exceeding .08% or more, both misdemeanors, and faces sentencing enhancement allegations of inflicting great bodily injury on the three children.
The misdemeanor DUI charges relate to Coleman’s arrest in Laguna Beach on Aug. 29. That case was not submitted to prosecutors until Wednesday, said Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Under state law, a driver with a prior DUI conviction who is subsequently involved in a deadly DUI crash can be charged with second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence. The same legal principle is applied in some cases for a prior arrest when a suspect has been given what is known as a Watson waiver admonishment.
Prosecutors are alleging Coleman’s blood-alcohol level was 0.22% — nearly three times the legal limit — at the time of the Tuesday night collision that killed Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia, 27, of Santa Ana, and his wife, Gabriela M. Andrade, who would have turned 29 later this month.
Coleman, whose arraignment was rescheduled for Dec. 22 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, faces 42 years and eight months to life in prison if convicted at trial, prosecutors said.
According to a GoFundMe page created by Andrade’s sister, the victims’ three daughters, who are 1, 3 and 5 years old, are hospitalized in critical condition. She said the family had been admiring Christmas lights in the area and the girls were dressed in “their Christmas pajamas.”
Coleman was also hospitalized, but the extent of her injuries was unclear.
The crash occurred at 7:46 p.m. Tuesday at Newport Coast Drive and Pelican Hills Road South. Coleman was behind the wheel of a black Range Rover that was southbound on Newport Coast Drive when the SUV collided with victims’ Nissan Versa as Saldana was turning onto Pelican Hills Road, according to Heather Rangel, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department.
Rangel noted that the three children were riding in the back seat of the sedan. She said Coleman “possibly” ran a red light.
Saldana-Mejia and his wife were pronounced dead at the scene.
He had been on his way to pick up his last paycheck at The Resort at Pelican Hill, where he had recently been working in housekeeping, his sister told Channel 2.
“Three young girls are orphans because of the selfish decision of a stranger,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “Everyone knows how dangerous drinking and driving or using drugs and driving is, and that it is a crime. Yet over and over again people choose to get behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs, and they are killing innocent people and destroying lives.
“This has to stop. Children should not have to grow up without their parents because someone decided to make the wrong decision and get behind the wheel while intoxicated,” he said. “The current pandemic has resulted in increased alcohol and drug use. We as members of the community all have a responsibility and duty to stop people who have been drinking or using drugs from driving. Putting a stop to this carnage is a community responsibility.”