Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A man was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder for a wrong-way crash on the Riverside (91) Freeway in Anaheim that killed one woman and injured two others nearly three years ago.

Jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before finding Ruben Gurrola, 26, guilty of murder and drunken driving with injury. They also found true sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury and multiple victims, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker.

Gurrola is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9.

Walker told the jury that Gurrola understood, but ignored, the risks of drinking and driving.

“He chose to drive home drunk when he was warned of the dangers before,” she said. “He knew what he did was wrong.”

Defense attorney Anthony Taylor said his client made a “horrific, tragic mistake” in getting behind the wheel in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2012. He argued that his client did not show “conscious disregard” for human life, an element of the implied malice theory of law that qualifies a defendant for second-degree murder.

The night of Jan. 28, 2012, Gurrola and his girlfriend, Allison Poon, went to a friend’s home in the Newport Peninsula to have drinks before going to the Sutra nightclub, where their friend was the DJ for the evening, Walker said. They all piled into a cab for the ride to the Costa Mesa club, where they drank some more, and planned to take a taxi back to their friend’s home to sleep off the effects of the alcohol, she said.

Instead, Gurrolla got behind the wheel of his 2009 Honda Civic, with Poon in the passenger seat, and decided to try to drive home to San Diego, the prosecutor said.

Gurrola ended up heading north in the southbound lanes of the 241 toll road, and then eastbound in the westbound lanes of the 91 Freeway in the Anaheim area, Walker said. Other motorists were flashing their lights at the wayward driver, who flashed his lights in response, she said.

About 1:40 a.m., the Civic slammed head-on into a 2011 Toyota Camry driven by Young Kim, whose  53-year-old passenger, Kyung Namgoong, was pronounced dead about an hour after the crash.

Kim, 57, broke his heels and was hospitalized for three weeks and needed a wheelchair for two months, Walker said, while the defendant’s girlfriend broke her nose and he broke his leg. Both needed surgery, the prosecutor said.

Gurrola’s blood-alcohol level, which was tested at the hospital about 3:15 a.m., was measured at .18, well above the legal limit of .08, according to the prosecution.

In arguing that Gurrola understood the dangers of drinking and driving, Walker said the defendant was involved in a September 2009 crash in Covina due to speeding, and was issued a citation for alcohol possession as a juvenile that required him to take a class that instructed him about the hazards of driving under the influence.

“He was very intoxicated … and  he knew he shouldn’t be driving,” Walker said.

Gurrola’s attorney said his client and girlfriend were kicked out of Sutra after they got drunk and were bickering. “And that’s when the plan went awry,” Taylor said of the couple’s intention to sleep it off at a friend’s home.

The two took a cab back to their friend’s home in Newport Beach, but no one was there, and they waited a long time before Gurrola got behind the wheel of his car, Taylor said.

“Ruben thinks he’s going to be OK … and he just wants to get home safe,” Taylor said.

Gurrola was cooperative with investigators, submitting to several interviews in the ensuing hours and days following the collision, Taylor said. He tried to climb out of the car with a broken leg to aid the others injured in the crash, but couldn’t walk, his attorney said.

City News Service

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