An extremely intoxicated elderly woman who killed her paralyzed husband when she drove head-on into a car of teenagers near Desert Hot Springs was sentenced to five years probation Friday in part because of her contrition and in part because her risk of contracting COVID-19 in prison would be severe.
Ingeborg Binninger, 69, pleaded guilty in October 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. She also admitted to several sentence-enhancing allegations.
The crash occurred on the afternoon of April 16, 2019, on Mountain View Road, near Club House Drive, just south of the Desert Hot Springs city limits. The defendant’s husband, 64-year-old Douglas Binninger, died in the crash, and the two other victims suffered lasting injuries.
Handing down his sentence at Indio’s Larson Justice Center, Riverside County Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins also sentenced Binninger to a four-year, four-month prison term that was suspended in lieu of granting her probation.
“She has expressed remorse. She voluntarily acknowledged her wrongdoing, she has no criminal history, she is elderly, (and) she has multiple physical problems, both from the accident and prior health issues,” Hawkins said.
The defendant is liable to be sent to state prison if she fails to follow the terms of her probation.
Deputy District Attorney Karen Salas had argued Binninger should receive jail time for killing her husband — who was paralyzed prior to his death — and injuring the two other victims.
“Her husband was paralyzed, and counted on her to take care of him, to load him in the car and to safely transport him to where he needed to go — and she killed him,” Salas said.
Prior to receiving her sentence, Binninger addressed the court, where she broke down crying as she begged the judge for a second chance.
“I will never do anything, anything wrong again,” she said. “Please have mercy. I am just so sorry.”
The two surviving victims, not present at Friday’s hearing, appeared before the court in October and described their experiences.
Aramaya Ruiz was 18 when she was behind the wheel of her Nissan Rogue on April 16, 2019, she testified.
Her friend, then-17-year-old Danielle Linares, was in the passenger seat, and on their way to Chipotle.
They were on Mountain View Road — having just met to eat at lunch in celebration of completing another year of high school when, about 2:20 p.m., a sedan driven by Binninger plowed into their vehicle head-on.
“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,” Ruiz said.
During that October 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.
On Friday, he added the increased risk of her contracting COVID-19 if sentenced to state prison to the list of reasons to grant her probation.
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.
Salas, the deputy district attorney, said on Friday that an employee of the bar Binninger drank at on the day of the crash told authorities that the defendant was a weekly fixture at the establishment, and that she regularly drank several margaritas before driving.
Ruiz said she required an invasive surgery due to a ruptured intestine following the crash, along with several other operations. She said she suffers permanent pain and numbness.
“I had a young and healthy 18-year-old body,” Ruiz said, “but it’s just been damaged so severely.”
Linares, the other surviving victim, testified 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 in vehicles.
`The blood of your husband is on your hands,” Linares told the defendant during the hearing, “I hope that drink was worth it.”