Orange County

Driver Pleads Not Guilty in Crash That Killed Woman and Her Daughter

The driver was initially released due to lack of evidence, but was later re-arrested

The driver of a BMW involved in a crash that resulted in the deaths of a mother and her 9-year-old daughter on New Year's Day pleaded not guilty Monday to multiple felonies, including manslaughter and driving under the influence.

The crash occurred shortly after midnight on New Year's Day on the 22 Freeway in Garden Grove as the mother and daughter drove home from a family New Year's Eve gathering. A mother and daughter, 33-year-old Jolene Gardner Castillo and 9-year-old Payton, were killed in the crash.

Melvin Branch, 30, was arrested on suspicion of DUI after the crash, but was released on Friday due to lack of sufficient evidence, the Orange County District Attorney's Office said. He was later re-arrested and remains in custody in lieu of $300,000 bail pending a pretrial hearing on Jan. 25. 

Following Branch's release, the DA's office said it received additional information from the California Highway Patrol that led to the decision to re-arrest Branch. He surrendered to the CHP in Santa Ana on Sunday morning, the DA's office said.

Branch was charged with two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, one felony count of driving with blood alcohol .08 percent or more causing bodily injury. He also faces misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer stemming from the arrest. He faces up to 20 years and 8 months in prison.

Joleen, a mother of three, was a teacher’s aide at Juan De Anza Elementary school, where her daughter was a fourth grader.

Daniel Castillo, Payton’s father, started the new year mourning the loss of his daughter and her mother. Miraculously, his 7-year-old son who was also in the car survived with no injuries.

"If you’re going to drink, stay home. Or find someone to get you. Don’t get in that car and drive," Castillo said through sobs.

Castillo says his daughter loved to draw, play sports, and dance.

"She was one of a kind and I don’t have her no more. I don’t want anyone to have to go through this. It’s not fair," Castillo said.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for the victims’ funerals. You can donate or find more information here. It had raised nearly $52,000 by late Sunday morning.

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