A 25-year-old Las Vegas man was convicted Tuesday of triggering an alcohol-fueled, chain-reaction pile-up on the Santa Ana Freeway in Irvine that killed a young mom and injured her 6-month-old son.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours before convicalting Irving Aguilar of second-degree murder and a count of driving under the influence causing injury with sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury on five victims.
Aguilar is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 17.
"When we flirt with death don't be shocked when he shows up," Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman said. "That's what Mr. Aguilar did."
Get Southern California news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC LA newsletters.
Aguilar drove to Orange County to go out with friends and stay in an Airbnb in Anaheim overnight, but instead decided to drive back home in his new Dodge Challenger, Feldman said. He got behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20%, which is halfway between twice and three times the legal limit.
"He set off in his three-month-old Dodge Challenger back to Las Vegas at 111 mph," Feldman said. "Through his choices, through his decisions and actions, Mr. Aguilar in no uncertain terms set in motion a chain of events that death would be inevitable."
The prosecutor characterized it as a "four-phase" series of crashes that lasted over 12 minutes.
Get Los Angeles's latest local news on crime, entertainment, weather, schools, COVID, cost of living and more. Here's your go-to source for today's LA news.
Aguilar, who had gotten a ticket for driving 61 mph in a 35-mph zone in Las Vegas a few weeks before the crashes, never hit the brakes as he slammed into a Prius, going 108 mph southbound on the freeway near the Alton Parkway exit at 1:24 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2018, Feldman said.
A tow-truck driver Aguilar sped by stopped when he saw the crash and tried to help Aguilar, whose broken down car was left blocking the highoccupancy and fast lanes, Feldman said.
The driver of the Prius managed "on three tires" to "navigate off the roadway," Feldman said. The Challenger was in a "dim stretch of the freeway" with its lights off, Feldman said.
Another driver in a Dodge van careened into a center divider to avoid the disabled car, Feldman said.
Then three other vehicles crashed into Aguilar's car, Feldman said.
One of the drivers spoke with a 911 dispatcher who was automatically called by the car's onboard security system, Feldman said.
The driver, while stuck in the upside-down Ford Edge, gives an account of the cars slamming into the Challenger. The prosecutor played the call to jurors that included the woman saying, "Oh my gosh, another person!"
In the last phase of collisions, 25-year-old Maria Osuna of National City was behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Spyder, one of three more vehicles to crash into Aguilar's vehicle and another car, Feldman said.
After she crashed into the car she stopped and unbuckled her seatbelt to check on her infant son when a van rear-ended her vehicle, killing her, Feldman said. Her son suffered skull and neck fractures.
Another diver sustained fractured vertebra, another suffered a broken nose, another sustained a concussion and another victim broke her ankle and nose.
Aguilar admitted to California Highway Patrol officers that he knew drunk driving was wrong and dangerous and was even telling himself he had to stop drinking so he could drive home, Feldman said. Aguilar concluded he was "drunk" but "could still function," the prosecutor said.
Aguilar's attorney, Fred Fascenelli, said, "This truly is a case of personal responsibility, but it's a case where personal responsibility ends and another person's responsibility begins."
The defense attorney acknowledged that his client "drove drunk and was involved in an accident that he caused," but said the chain of events was "broken" when other, "inattentive" drivers crashed into Aguilar's car.
"At the end of the day, Ms. Osuna's death was not as a direct result of what was put in motion by Mr. Aguilar," Fascenelli said.
He said it was a "clear night," and there were "no other obstructions there other than their inattention."