A drunk driver with a blood-alcohol level four times the legal limit -- the equivalent of approximately 17 drinks -- pleaded guilty to striking and killing a 21-year-old driver coming home from work in Ramona last year.
Paul Schenk pleaded guilty to several charges related to the fatal crash, including Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated, two counts of Felony Child Endangerment, DUI Causing great bodily injury as well as Driving with a Measurable amount of Alcohol and injury to a child under 5 years old.
The crash happened on Sept. 12, 2016, when Schenk picked up his 5-year-old and 4-year-old kids from school, Deputy District Attorney Callie Bright said. He put his 5-year-old in the front seat and 4-year-old in the back seat without seat belts, according to Bright.
At the time of the crash, he was driving with his kids in the back seat with a blood-alcohol level approximately more than four times the legal limit, at 0.33, according to Bright -- the equivalent of 17 drinks.
Bright said Schenk crossed the shoulder near Vista Ramona Road and E Old Julian Highway and over-corrected, smashing into the victim's car head-on at approximately 4:30 p.m.
The impact of the crash instantly killed 21-year-old Racheal Guarneros – Callahan, 21. Family members say she had just finished work at the Riviera Oaks Resort and was on the phone with someone when the collision occurred.
"She was just a beautiful person," Sandra Khoury, the victim's sister, said. "She just had a big heart and just doted on her family. My daughter, her niece, and her other best friends. So it's just a huge hurt."
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During the preliminary hearing, the Judge heard from witnesses and law enforcement officials who first arrived on scene.
One San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy described rushing to Guarneros-Callahan's car first, worried it may burst into flames.
"I jumped in the backseat and pulled her seatbelt off, and that's when I noticed the steering wheel was wedged in her chest," the officer testified.
When he went around to the Ford involved in the crash, he found the driver wedged between the seat and steering wheel.
"He just kept saying, 'I messed up,'" the officer recalled during testimony.
CHP Officer Brian Kattke, who responded to the crash soon after, said that when he first arrived on the scene, he spoke to Schenk, who he identified as the driver in court.
"His first statement to me though was a question," Kattke testified. "He asked, "am I going to jail?'"
Kattke said he did not respond, but the question led him toward a different path in his further questioning and investigations: that some other factor may have been involved in the crash besides driver's error.
When he returned to get a more detailed statement later, Kattke testified that he could smell alcohol coming from Schenk from two to three feet away. When he asked if Schenk had been drinking, Schenk told him 'yes.'
Schenk's attorney, Paul Pfingst, has argued that his client is a veteran with a 21-year service career pulling wounded warriors from combat. Because of his past, he suffered mentally, Pfingst has argued.
Six days before the crash, Schenk went to VA Hospital in San Diego asking for help but was turned away, according to Pfingst.
"In addition to regular mental health appointments, we offer our Psychiatric Emergency Clinic which is a walk-in clinic for Veterans in distress or if feel they need urgent care," a partial statement from the VA San Diego read.
The 4-year-old involved in the crash was ejected from the backseat and had to be airlifted to Rady Children's Hospital, where he received stitches for his injuries; the 5-year-old was taken to Palomar Hospital.
Schenk will be sentenced on July 21. He could face up to 18 years in prison.