A repeat drunken driver was found guilty Monday of second-degree murder and DUI charges for a collision that killed a 76-year-old woman walking with her grandson to see Fourth of July fireworks in San Clemente.
Jurors deliberated about three hours before convicting Kelly Michele Wolfe, 47, of Dana Point of the murder count, along with driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a blood-alcohol level more than the legal limit of .08 percent or more causing injury, all felonies. She was also convicted of driving without a license, a misdemeanor.
Wolfe, who is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 20, faces up to 18 years to life in prison for the July 4, 2013, death of Marthann Demchuk of Monrovia.
“I’m just relieved,” Demchuk’s daughter tearfully told reporters after the verdict was announced. “I’m so glad it’s over… Hopefully, this will be some kind of closure.”
Martha Fessenden said her mother got involved in her family’s healthcare business when she was just 12 years old and later became a registered nurse.
“She was a class act, hard-working,” Fessenden said.
Wolfe faced the upgraded charge of second-degree murder because she was convicted of drunken driving in Nevada in 1994, and in 2008, when applying for a new driver’s license, was warned that she could be charged with murder if she was involved in a deadly DUI accident, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said.
The victim was walking in a bike lane on El Camino Real just south of Camino Capistrano with her 12-year-old grandson about 8:30 p.m. when she was struck by the van, Walker said. The boy suffered minor injuries in the collision, the prosecutor said.
Demchuk and her grandson frequently took walks together, with her using a cane and the boy holding on to one arm to help steady her, the prosecutor said.
Demchuk’s family had a home at the time in the Palm Beach Park neighborhood of the city, where they enjoyed staying weekends during the summer, Walker said.
After the victim was struck by the van, the driver kept going and turned right at the next traffic light, Walker said. Witnesses saw the driver get out and go into a residence nearby, she said.
When police questioned Wolfe, she had glass in her hair and purse, and the van’s mirror was found at the scene of the collision, Walker said.
A woman who was waiting by the roadside in her wheelchair to watch the fireworks show told investigators she thought the vehicle was going to hit her, Walker said, then “heard a thud and saw her husband running to help.”
A bartender at Knuckleheads, a sports bar in San Clemente, told investigators that the defendant was drinking right before the collision, Walker said.
Wolfe’s attorney, Louis Pilato, said his client had a “shot and a beer” at the bar and “seemed fine.” When Wolfe got home, she started drinking, which explains why her blood-alcohol level was about .31 when police tested her, Pilato said.
The defense attorney noted it was getting dark at the time of the collision, and the victim and her grandson were crossing the road in a spot where there was no crosswalk. The speed limit, he said, was 50 mph.
— Wire reports
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