Mom Charged in DUI Crash that Killed 5-year-old Daughter and Playmate

A Chula Vista mom is ordered to stand trial for DUI crash that that resulted in the deaths of her beloved 5-year-old daughter and her daughter’s 5-year-old friend. The 22-year-old mom, who is accused of drunk driving, veered off the road and crashed into the Otay Lake Reservoir. Although rescue attempts were made, tragically the two little girls died that evening.

While under the influence of alcohol, the young mom made the careless decision to get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, Arlene Anna Hernandez, lost control of her 2005 Kia Sedona on eastbound Otay Lakes Road shortly after 6 p.m. on Sunday, August 5, said authorities. According to California Highway Patrol Officer Omar Morales, the vehicle tumbled down an embankment near Wueste Road, overturned, landed on its roof in the water and sank.

News reports stated that Hernandez and Eric Figueroa, who was her front passenger, were able to escape the sinking vehicle. However, their 5-year-old girls were still belted in their seats. Hernandez’s daughter, Lesette Silva and Figueroa’s daughter Giuliana remained trapped in the back seat until they were pulled out by Border Patrol Agent Travis Creteau. He jumped in the murky water in his full uniform to rescue the girls from the submerged SUV. Local area residents also tried to help with the rescue. Even though heroic measures were were taken to try and save the two beloved five-year-olds, both girls died later at Rady Children’s Hospital.

After hearing the evidence presented on Tuesday, South Bay Judge Ana Espana ordered 22-year-old Hernandez to stand trial on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter, felony child abuse and DUI causing injury. During the preliminary hearing, Hernandez and the relatives of the two dead girls broke down in uncontrollable sobs, as they heard the accounts of that tragic day. {U-T San Diego}

At the preliminary hearing, Eric Figueroa refused to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. CHP Officer Brad Clinkscales stated that Figueroa told him that he had met Hernandez a few months earlier and their daughters played together. The day of the accident was another arranged “play date” for the girls by Hernandez and Figueroa. According to Figueroa’s statement, they all met at a Ralphs Grocery Store where he picked up a six-pack of beer. Hernandez then drove the four of them to the park.

In his account to Officer Clinksdale, he stated that he and Hernandez drank about three beers each while they watched their girls play. When Hernandez saw some skydivers she decided she wanted to give her daughter an up-close look, so they got in the car and began to drive toward the area where they were. Figueroa stated he was blindfolded during the drive because Hernandez had a “surprise” for him. He expressed that he didn’t know anything was wrong until he heard yelling and the minivan careening out of control.

At the preliminary hearing, Officer Clinkscales testified that once in the water, Figueroa and Hernandez freed themselves from the sinking car and they said they tried to go back for their girls, but were unable to do so and they began shouting for help.

It was reported that the officer who arrested Hernandez smelled alcohol on her breath. Her blood-alcohol level was measured at .13 percent after the crash, said officials. At CHP headquarters, Clinkscales said Hernandez told him that she had purchased a 12-pack of beer earlier in the day and put it in a cooler in the van, along with snacks for the children.

In Hernandez’s account of the accident, she told Clinkscales that a song had come on the radio and she was singing along, turning around and “dancing” with her daughter, with one hand on the steering wheel. She stated she then spotted a rock in the road and swerved to avoid it, sending the van off the road. Officer Clinkscales testified he found no evidence to support her claim. He stated there were no rocks in the road, tire marks or gauges to indicate Hernandez swerved to miss a rock. In fact, Motorists immediately behind Hernandez stated they did not see a rock.

The U-T San Diego reported that on cross-examination of Officer Clinkscales and others, Hernandez’s defense attorney worked to show that she did try to avoid the rock, which would explain why she lost control of the SUV. If that finding is proven to be true it could lessen her potential prison time because she would not be found to be grossly negligent in her driving.

Unfortunately, this is not the mom’s first criminal charge ~ in a November 2011 she was charged with a hit-and-run accident in which two people were injured. Hernandez is being held in lieu of $400,000 bail and is due in court on December 17 for her arraignment.

You may believe that Arlene Hernandez’s decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated is what brought about the tragic chain of events that devastatingly changed so many lives. In fact, you may feel she deserves being prosecuted, or may even feel she is guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter and the other charges against her. However, you must put your personal feelings aside and allow Ms. Hernandez the opportunity, through legal representation, to defend herself and prove her case. After all, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As a skilled criminal defense attorney, who has handled many manslaughter cases in San Diego, I can tell you how important it is that the criminal defense team thoroughly investigate all aspects of a manslaughter case, including the retaining of an accident reconstruction expert, interviewing witnesses, and examining medical records. The best way to defend yourself against any criminal charge is to speak with and retain an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer. It is imperative that you know and protect your rights!

Sources: “Trial Ordered for Driver in Crash Killing Daughter, Playmate” ~ FOX 5 News, November 27,2012

“Mom in crash that killed 2 girls to stand trial” ~ U-T San Diego, November 27, 2012