One of two men accused in a 2019 street racing collision that killed two senior citizens in Coachella was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on felony charges.
Angel Ramirez, 40, is charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence stemming from the May 17, 2019, crash that killed Sofia Prieto, 74, and her husband, Jose Prieto, 75.
At the end of a preliminary hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio Wednesday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Edward Forstenzer ruled there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for Ramirez on both charges. A post-preliminary hearing arraignment was set for Jan. 6.
His co-defendant — 31-year-old Estevan Jesus Donato of Coachella — was previously ordered to stand trial on two second-degree murder counts.
According to prosecutors, the Prietos’ Ford F-150 truck was struck while making a turn across Grapefruit Boulevard near Mitchell Drive.
Testifying at Donato’s preliminary hearing, Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. David Morton said a witness reported seeing two cars involved in the crash — an Audi sedan and Dodge Challenger — at the intersection of Indio and Grapefruit boulevards, about two miles north of the crash site.
Morton testified that the witness reported hearing the engines revving at the intersection before both cars took off, reaching speeds upward of 100 mph.
The Challenger, allegedly driven by Ramirez, hit the F-150, while the Audi — allegedly driven by Donato — sped off and was later located after a witness reported the car’s license plate to a sheriff’s deputy, according to prosecutors.
According to a declaration in support of Ramirez’s arrest filed by deputy sheriff Ben McCoy, deputies responded at around 7 p.m. to the fatal crash in the intersection, where the passenger of the vehicle, Sofia Prieto, was lying face down in the roadway with major head trauma.
Jose Prieto died at the scene of the crash, and Sofia Prieto died at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio.
Ramirez was found unresponsive in the driver’s seat of the Challenger, according to McCoy. He was taken to the Desert Regional Hospital with major injuries.
McCoy said that prior to the fatal crash, Ramirez allegedly drove up to Donato at a traffic light and revved his engine to indicate a speed contest challenge.
At the green light, they both allegedly accelerated at a high rate of speed next to each other before reaching the intersection where Prieto was making a U-turn, according to McCoy.
Donato was subsequently interviewed at the Thermal sheriff’s station and said he was just driving at the time of the collision and was not participating in a race, but saw Ramirez driving recklessly and causing it, according to McCoy.
McCoy said that because a video allegedly shows both defendants driving side-by-side at a high rate of speed seconds before the fatal collision, Donato was arrested and later charged.
Neither defendant has any felony convictions in Riverside County.