An Orange County jury found a distracted driver guilty Wednesday of one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence for killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk after failing to slow or stop before the collision.
The driver had been illegally sending text messages just prior to the crash. Martin Burt Kuehl, 42, Costa Mesa faces a maximum sentence of nine years in state prison at his sentencing on Friday, March 12, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-29, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Prior to the crash on Aug. 29, 2008, Kuehl illegally text messaged while driving. Kuehl approached Westcliff Drive in Newport Beach driving a sport utility vehicle (SUV). At the intersection of Westcliff Drive and Dover Drive, Kuehl was not paying attention and did not advance when the light turned green. As a result, a driver behind him honked his horn. The defendant then made a wide turn from the number one left turn lane on Dover Drive into the number two westbound lane on Westcliff Drive.
At approximately 8:31 a.m., Kuehl was distracted and failed to slow or stop as he approached a crosswalk, where 32-year-old Martha Ovalle was crossing the street. The defendant hit and killed the victim with his SUV. Kuehl had an unobstructed view of the crosswalk for 286 feet prior to striking the victim and failed to see the pedestrian or slow or break in any way. Kuehl admitted to Newport Beach Police, who investigated this case, that he never saw the pedestrian. Ovalle was pronounced dead at the scene due to blunt force injuries to her head, torso and extremities.
Deputy District Attorney Jason Baez of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.