Los Angeles

Retrial Begins in Deadly Distracted Driving Crash

Jorene Nicolas had 13 text messages on her phone over a span of 14 minutes just before a fatal collision, according to prosecutors.

After four years of court battles, Jorene Nicolas' retrial started Wednesday. Nicolas, of San Diego, is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter for crashing her car into the back of a car stopped in traffic because she was allegedly distracted by her cellphone.

Deanna Mauer, 23, was driving the car Nicolas crashed into, and was killed.

Although many expected Nicolas to plead guilty in March 2015, she decided to go to trial, and hired a new lawyer, Joe Dane, who said the prosecution's reconstruction of the accident is flawed.

"There are two very different conclusions that are being drawn, and you have to look at them. At the end of the case I will show you how this was an accident. if I had a time machine I would give it to everyone," Dane said. 

If Nicolas had accepted a plea deal in March, she would have served a year in prison. If she is convicted by a jury, she could face six years instead, according to the district attorney's office.

Nicolas, then 28, was traveling at least 80 mph when she crashed her Toyota Prius into the back of Mauer's Hyundai sedan in April 2011 on the 405 Freeway, according to crash investigators. Traffic was at a near-standstill, but Nicolas was distracted by her cellphone and failed to notice, prosecutors argued.

Nicolas had 13 text messages on her phone over a span of 14 minutes, according to prosecutors.

She did not brake or slow before slamming into Mauer's vehicle, which was pushed into a Porsche in front of it, according to the district attorney's office. Nicolas then hit the freeway's center divider before coming to a stop, facing south in the northbound lanes.

"I heard this explosion because I had the top down on the car," said witness Jack Jeffries in court Wednesday. "Glass in the air and just raining down."

Nicolas was hospitalized for minor cuts.

Mauer, a star former softball player at Fountain Valley High School and coach at San Juan Hills High School, died at a hospital. She was wearing a seat belt.

Her mother, Dawn, told the court Wednesday that Mauer was headed to a friend's home in Los Angeles, after she finished working at a Whole Foods in Huntington Beach that morning.

Her father and mother have attended dozens of court hearings.

"I have never owned a cellphone, I will never own a cellphone for the rest of my life," said Howard Mauer after a court proceeding in March.

In April 2014, a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a conviction, leading to the retrial. Prosecutors said during the first trial that there was evidence of cellphone use by Nicolas, but that it was not clear whether it involved talking, texting or both.

"I thought for sure she'd enter a plea and that it was right for her to do so so she could move on with her life and so could the victim's family," said one of the former jurors, Sharon Aguilera, outside court in March.

In an interview last year with The Orange County Register after the mistrial, Nicolas characterized the crash as a "tragic accident" and said that Mauer swerved in front of her on the freeway.

"She veered into my lane, so I avoided her and I hit the center divider," Nicolas told the Register. "That's when my air bags deployed."

The retrial is expected to last eight days, according to Gwen Vieau, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Superior Court of California.

Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.

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