Woman pleads guilty in Orange County DUI accident that killed couple and hospitalized young daughters

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — A 23-year-old woman pleaded guilty Friday to an alcohol-fueled accident in Newport Beach that killed a Santa Ana couple and hospitalized their three young daughters.

Grace Elizabeth Coleman is scheduled to be sentenced on July 29. She accepted a plea deal from Orange County Superior Court Justice Gregg Prickett, who said the maximum sentence she would face was 21 years to life in prison, her attorney John Barnett said.

Coleman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, as well as drunk driving which caused injuries, a DUI with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of 0.08% or more which resulted in injuries, and failure to stop, hit and run with injury or Death, all criminal and administrative offenses of driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit.

Coleman could have faced up to 42 years and eight months in prison if convicted at trial.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Walker alleged that on the night of the fatal crash in Newport Beach on December 8, 2020, Coleman was driven home prior to the accident, but then got back behind the wheel of her vehicle.

The DUI misdemeanor charge relates to Coleman’s arrest in Laguna Beach on August 29. That case was not presented to prosecutors until Dec. 16, 2020, said Kimberly Edds, a public information officer with the Orange County Attorney’s Office.

Under state law, a driver with a prior DUI conviction who is subsequently involved in a fatal DUI accident may be charged with second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence. The same legal principle applies to prior arrest in some cases where a suspect has received a so-called Watson Waiver Warning.

Walker previously told the court that Coleman was involved in a 2019 hit-and-run in Laguna Beach that resulted in property damage.

According to now-retired Laguna Beach Police Officer Sgt. Jim Cota, the victim reported the collision the following day and submitted video footage, but the two sides later settled the matter among themselves and no arrest or referral to prosecutors was made.

Prosecutors alleged that Coleman’s blood alcohol level at the time of the collision that killed Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia, 27, of Santa Ana, and his wife, Gabriela M. Andrade, was 0.22% – nearly three times the legal limit later turned 29 in December 2020.

According to a GoFundMe page created by Andrade’s sister, the family had been admiring Christmas lights in the area that night and the victims’ daughters, aged 1, 3 and 5, were “wearing their Christmas pajamas”.

The Santa Ana Police Department raised $8,000 to help the children and bought toys for them for Christmas, former Cpl. Anthony Bertagna. They all suffered broken legs and the eldest also had broken arms, Bertagna said.

According to Heather Rangel, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department, Coleman was driving a black Range Rover southbound on Newport Coast Drive when the SUV collided with the victim’s Nissan Versa when Saldana pulled onto Pelican Hills Road at 7:46 p.m South turned .

Rangel said the three children rode 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.

Copyright © 2022 City News Service, Inc. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/grace-elizabeth-coleman-dui-crash-newport-beach-fatal-daughters-injured/11993528/ Woman pleads guilty in Orange County DUI accident that killed couple and hospitalized young daughters

Laura Coffey

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