A jury was seated Thursday for the trial of a 21-year-old felon accused of driving drunk and causing a head-on collision that killed two people north of Desert Center.
Anza resident Austin Bly Ellington, who was 18 at the time, is accused in 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.
Ellington 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.
After four days of screening prospective jurors amid social distancing protocols, Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins swore in a jury to hear evidence in the trial, which is expected to go into the first or second week of November.
Opening statements are scheduled for Monday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
Ellington and several others driving in a multi-vehicle caravan were headed to Parker, Arizona, to celebrate the Fourth of July at Lake Havasu when the crash occurred, according to prosecutors.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jackie Quintero said Ellington was eastbound on state Route 62 that evening when his pickup 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, Quintero said.
A trial brief prepared by Deputy District Attorney Karen Salas alleges the defendant was attempting to pass another car ahead of him while reaching speeds upward of 70 mph when the crash occurred.
A video posted to social media by one of the occupants traveling in the defendant’s truck shows him driving with an apparent beer bottle between his legs, which prosecutors believe was filmed during the excursion to Lake Havasu, the brief says.
A blood sample taken 2 1/2 hours after the crash showed the defendant’s blood-alcohol content at .08%, according to court papers.
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. He was arrested on July 17, 2018, at the hospital, more than two weeks after the crash, according to county jail records.
Ellington is additionally awaiting trial on a felony case from April 2018 that include allegations that he discharged a firearm in a negligent manner.
Court records indicate Ellington has a prior felony conviction, although additional information was not available.
The defendant remains out of custody on $220,000 bond.