A 28-year-old Harbor City woman was convicted Thursday of vehicular manslaughter and DUI charges for a collision in La Palma that killed two people and seriously injured the driver of the other car.
Guadalupe Berenice Zamora was convicted of two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury. Jurors also found true a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury on a victim who survived the crash.
Jurors rejected two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. They began deliberating Thursday morning and reached verdicts at the end of the day.
Zamora, who was out of custody on bail, was remanded to jail, but not before Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner wrestled with whether to let her remain free until sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 5.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this case — a lot,” Steiner said. “I really deliberated on that decision (to send her to jail). It’s not just a snap decision.”
Steiner added, “This is the ultimate sad case.”
Prior to the crash, Zamora had no criminal record other than a ticket for an illegal U-turn, Steiner noted. He acknowledged that it was the “ultimate nightmare scenario for the victims’ family — but also for the defendant’s family.”
The fatally injured victims, 47-year-old Rosemarie Medallo and 81-year-old Bernardina Lee, both of Lakewood, were passengers in a car driven by Kabeio Lee Jr., who lost his spleen, broke his ribs and dislocated his shoulder in the Feb. 4, 2017, collision.
Zamora, who was behind the wheel of a 2015 Honda Civic, ran a red light at La Palma Avenue and Walker Street about 2:40 a.m. and crashed into Lee’s 1996 Honda Civic, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue.
“Not only does she run the red light, she was going 43 miles per hour five seconds prior to the collision,” Orue told jurors in his opening statement. “You will learn that she never hit the brakes.”
Orue said the defendant was charged with the three counts “based on everything in totality,” including evidence from surveillance video, blood tests to check her blood-alcohol level and information from a data recorder on her vehicle.
Zamora’ s attorney, Fred Fascenelli, maintained that his client was not impaired at the time of the crash.
“Just because you have alcohol in your system doesn’t mean you’re impaired,” Fascenelli said. “Ms. Zamora was not impaired. The officer who gave the defendant a field sobriety test did it incorrectly.”
The defense attorney added, “You’re going to have to determine whether that officer made a mistake or the defendant was impaired and you’re going to learn the defendant was not impaired.”
In his closing argument, Orue told jurors that the blood test showed that hours after the collision, Zamora had a blood-alcohol level between .07 and .08, which is the legal limit.
Zamora ran a “stale” red light that was red for “40-odd seconds before she came barreling through that intersection,” the prosecutor said.
Zamora told officers at the scene that she doesn’t drink and doesn’t often go out because she is so busy with work and school, Orue said. But that night she said she was “pounding water” to dilute the effects of alcohol following a trip to a bar in Santa Ana, he said.
After the evening at the bar, Zamora went to a friend’s home in Buena Park about 2 a.m., Orue said. She should have known better about the effects of drinking and driving because her niece was the victim of a drunken driver, Orue said.
“She knew the risks and she did it anyway,” he said.
Orue conceded that the officer who did the field sobriety test admitted his mistakes during testimony, but argued there was still other good reasons to draw blood from the defendant, which showed she had alcohol in her system. A forensic scientist testified that Zamora was an impaired driver, Orue said.
“She turned that 2,500-pound vehicle into a missile,” he said.