An Orange County Superior Court judge Tuesday denied bail for 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, who was also arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence during the summer, is facing two murder counts stemming from the Dec. 8 crash, along with one felony 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.
Coleman 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.
Coleman’s attorneys, John Barnett and Paul Meyer, sought to have their client released from custody and placed in a rehab facility. Orange County Superior Court Judge Andre Manssourian denied the request, saying it was not a “lockdown facility,” which, he added, “was insufficient under the circumstances.”
Coleman’s attorneys’ offer to have the Newport Beach resident placed on GPS monitoring was also rebuffed by Manssourian.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker alleged that on the night of the deadly collision in Newport Beach, Coleman got a ride home before the crash, but then got back behind the wheel of her vehicle.
The misdemeanor DUI charges relate to Coleman’s arrest in Laguna Beach on Aug. 29. That case was not submitted to prosecutors until Dec. 16, said Kimberly Edds, a public information officer with 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.
Walker told Manssourian that Coleman was involved in a hit-and-run with property damage last year in Laguna Beach.
According to Laguna Beach police Sgt. Jim Cota, the victim reported the collision the following day and submitted video footage, but the two sides later settled the matter between themselves and no arrest or referral for charges was made to prosecutors.
Coleman, whose arraignment was rescheduled for Jan. 27 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, faces 42 years and eight months to life in prison if convicted as charged.
Prosecutors are alleging Coleman’s blood-alcohol level was 0.22% — nearly three times the legal limit — at the time of the 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.
According to a GoFundMe page created by Andrade’s sister, the family had been admiring holiday lights in the area that night, and the victims’ daughters, who are 1, 3 and 5 years old, were dressed in “their Christmas pajamas.”
The children were hospitalized but have since been released, according to Edds. Coleman was also hospitalized following the crash, but the extent of her injuries was unclear.
Santa Ana police raised $8,000 to help the children and bought toys for them for Christmas, said Santa Ana Police Department Cpl. Anthony Bertagna. They all have broken legs and the oldest also has broken arms, Bertagna said.
Coleman driving a black Range Rover southbound on Newport Coast Drive when the SUV collided with the victims’ Nissan Versa as Saldana was turning onto Pelican Hills Road South at 7:46 p.m., according to Heather Rangel, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department.
Rangel said 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. His sister told a television station that 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.