On August 5, 2012, Arlene Anna Hernandez, 23, crashed her SUV into Otay Reservoir while under the influence of alcohol, tragically killing two 5-year-old girls present in the vehicle at the time of the crash. Hernandez later pleaded guilty in March to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter and one count of DUI causing injury, taking responsibility for ending the lives of her own daughter, Lesette Silva, and her friend Guiliana Figueroa. Almost a year after the accident, Chula Vista Superior Court Judge, Theodore Weathers, has sentenced Hernandez to eight years in prison. Judge Weathers noted that the maximum sentence Hernandez could have faced based on her plea agreement was 12 years prison time and called the incident “a particularly tragic case”. The judge also stated that the victims were especially vulnerable due to the fact they were seat-belted into the submerged car. At Hernandez’s preliminary hearing in November, evidence construed that Hernandez had taken her daughter to Mountain Hawk Park in Chula Vista for a “play date” with Guiliana and her father, Eric Figueroa. The two adults made a very poor decision to drink three beers each at the park while their daughters played together, which they both honestly confessed. At around 6 p.m., Hernandez reported that she saw skydivers coming in for a landing North of the reservoir she later crashed into, and wanted her daughter to get a closer look. The adults then put the little girls into the back of a Kia SUV, strapping Lesette into a child’s car seat but failing to do so with Guiliana. Soon thereafter, Hernandez lost control of the vehicle on Otay Lakes Road near Wueste Road, drove over an embankment, and plunged into the reservoir.
Hernandez told investigators that she had swerved the car to avoid a rock, however, California Highway Patrol officers testified that no rock or any other obstruction was found on the scene of the accident. When Hernandez’s blood was drawn and tested her blood-alcohol content measured almost 1.5 times the legal limit for driving in California. Both Hernandez and Figueroa were able to get out of the SUV and swim to the surface of the water, saving themselves but putting forth little to no effort in saving their daughters. Several witnesses jumped in the water in an attempt to help but were of no luck and the girls were not pulled out of the vehicle until Border Patrol agents arrived. One witness flagged agent Travis Creteau down as he was driving by the scene. He quickly jumped in, swam to the SUV, and used a knife to cut Lesette out of her car seat. Unfortunately, by the time Creteau pulled both girls out of the water and to the surface, their bodies had already gone limp.
Mother of victim Guiliana Figueroa, Natasha Lee, spoke on behalf of her deceased daughter stating, “I’m tormented by the loss of my daughter. You (Hernandez) had no concern for the lives, which you were responsible for that day, two little angels that must have been terrified. I would have died myself trying to save my child.” Lee also described the indescribable pain of learning of her little girl’s fate, going to identify the body at Rady Children’s Hospital where both little girls were pronounced dead, and called the defendant “careless and selfish”. Hernandez tearfully apologized in court expressing, “I am so sorry for all the pain that I have caused you. I take full responsibility for the death of my daughter, Lesette, and the death of Guiliana. With the time that I get sentenced to, your honor, I just want to be able to better myself and to work on myself as a mother and a daughter.” Deputy District Attorney Mary Loeb argued for the full twelve-year sentence, however the judge felt that the eight-year term was appropriate after Hernandez’s defense pointed out that their client had no prior record. This argument proved successful given the outcome of the verdict, and reiterates the importance for anyone facing criminal charges to acquire a strong and experienced defense attorney.