A woman was convicted of second-degree murder Friday in a 2012 crash involving a mother and her two young daughters who were crossing a street in Santa Ana.
Jessicah Louise Cowan, 37, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit and was driving at twice the speed limit when she ran a red light and hit the family, which had been holding hands and crossing with the right-of-way, according to Orange County prosecutors.
Six-year-old Osmara Meza was killed. Her 6-year-old sister, Gresia, and her mother, Eloisa Meza, were seriously hurt, though both have since recovered.
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"We miss her a lot and we wish we had her here with us, and if somebody told me I could do anything to bring her back I would do whatever it would take to have my child back," the mother said through an interpreter.
Cowan also was convicted of DUI counts involving each injured victim. She appeared to sob and covered her mouth after the verdicts were read Friday in a Santa Ana courtroom.
Sentencing was scheduled for June 10. She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Cowan has two children. At the end of the hearing, she looked back at her mother and seemed to mouth the words, "I'm sorry."
Eloisa Meza and her two daughters were walking to an area restaurant that Saturday morning to get pancakes, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney. The defendant "decided to drink. It was not an accident. There were choices made, things that were done," Birney said.
Cowan's defense attorney told jurors Cowan is not denying that she was intoxicated, but he said she was distracted by a call on her cellphone and did not try to leave the scene. Defense attorney Dennis O'Connell, urged jurors not to let their emotions get the best of them and to judge the case on its facts.
"That supernova of emotion will make it very difficult for you," O'Connell said, referring to the death of a young girl.
He said Cowan was trying to drive to Temecula that day after a flight into Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.
"You're going to see the route she's taking makes no sense," O'Connell said. "She's driving under the influence. When she does that, she's thinking the same way all these other people think when they do that. The last thing on her mind is she's going to kill someone."
Cowan has no criminal record and has never undergone the type of coaching about the dangers of drinking and driving that drunken drivers must do when they are convicted, O'Connell said.
Cowan allegedly continued driving after the collision, but was pinned in by a driver who pursued and stopped her until nearby police could respond. Santa Ana police called the pursuing driver's action "heroic." A vial of medical marijuana was allegedly found in the 2002 silver Lexus sedan.
Credit card receipts in her purse showed the defendant stopped at a liquor store and bought the two small bottles of vodka after she arrived at Bob Hope Airport and picked up her car, Birney said. She stopped at another liquor store in Arcadia after that and spent a nearly identical amount, but there are no records of what she bought there, according to Birney.
He said records show she bought two drinks on the flight, as well.
Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated Osmara Meza was 5 years old. Family members confirmed the girl was 6 years old at the time of her death.
Vikki Vargas contributed to this report.