Two killer drivers — one stays at the scene and gets four years, one flees and gets no jail time

February 29, 2012

So let me get this straight.

A woman with 16 previous tickets runs down a cyclist while texting and drunk, and gets off with just four years.

Evidently, Danae Marie Miller got an early birthday gift. Although I’m sure she doesn’t think so.

Miller plead guilty on Tuesday to a single count of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated. She had been facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison; she accepted a plea deal for less than half of that.

Her victim, Amine Britel, a world-class triathlete as well as a popular local businessman, was riding in the bike lane on San Joaquin Road just east of Spyglass Hill Road in Newport Beach last February 21st when he was run down from behind by Miller’s car — just one year and one week from the day of her sentencing.

Why she was even on the road that night is question our lenient traffic courts will have to answer. Or would, if anyone was paying enough attention to ask the right questions.

In the six years between 2005 and 2011, Miller received six tickets for speeding or driving too fast for conditions, as well as tickets for driving the wrong way on a one-way street, failure to stop at the stop sign and two tickets for talking on a cell phone while driving.

A record like that should have been more than enough to get her off the road. If the courts had actually taken her obvious refusal to obey basic traffic laws seriously, a gifted athlete might still be alive today.

Instead, she was allowed to keep driving until she killed someone. Now her license has finally been revoked for three years as part of her sentence.

Just a tad too late, I’d say.

Despite initially claiming that she hadn’t been drinking, Miller had a BAC of over .10 nearly two hours after the collision after getting off work at the Zinc Café in Corona del Mar. And despite claiming that she never texts while driving, records showed that she had been texting just moments before killing Britel — though not, apparently, when she actually hit him.

Evidently, you’re not considered legally distracted unless you text WTF! at the exact moment you kill someone.

According to an anonymous source who attended the sentencing, the real surprise was that the two families seemed to be supportive of one another at the conclusion of the case, despite earlier anger.

The surprise in the Miller case is that the families, Miller’s and Britel’s, were amicable after the sentencing, talking with each other in the courthouse hallway. After the daggers I saw fly at Miller from the two members of the Britel’s family who had shown up at the prelim last December, I certainly would never have expected this, especially after the oral impact statements provided to the judge before sentencing. Miller’s family, however, had been very supportive of her, showing up at all her court appearances, so maybe this support will give her a shot at redemption, a chance to be a useful, productive, harmless member of society in the future; even Britel’s family seems to be hoping for this.

We can hope.

Danae Miller is just 23 years old, and spent Tuesday night in the Orange County Jail pending transfer to state prison. With good behavior, she could be back on the streets in a few years.

Whether she will have learned her lesson by then remains to be seen.

Her birthday is in a few weeks; she’ll celebrate it behind bars. Hopefully, she’ll appreciate the early gift she got in court on Tuesday.

Thanks to Jeffrey Fylling and David Huntsman for the heads-up.

Update: I neglected to mention that two civil suits have been filed against Miller for the death of Amine Britel; they were recently consolidated into a single case.

……..

In yet another example of our courts coddling killer drivers, the same anonymous source tells me that Renato Demartino entered a surprise guilty plea on Tuesday for the hit-and-run death of 22-year old Marco Acuapan.

Acuapan was also riding in a marked bike lane, on Walnut Avenue near Browning Avenue, on November 17, 2010 when he was rear-ended by red 2010 Mustang. The driver, later identified as Demartino, fled the scene, leaving his victim lying in the street with severe head injuries.

Acuapan was taken to a hospital in critical condition, where he remained in a coma until his death last April.

According to my source, Demartino was sentenced to just two years in state prison. And even that was stayed, meaning he is unlikely to spend a single night in jail.

Thankfully, his license was revoked for three years, since the court saw fit to let him out.

Seriously, he killed a man and fled the scene. And didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for heartlessly leaving another human being to die in the streets.

May I politely ask what the f*** is wrong with our legal system?

……..

One brief bit of good news.

The County of Los Angeles now has a shiny new bike plan, as the Board of Supervisors passes it on a vote of four to zero; Supervisor Mike Antonovich abstained because of questions about funding the plan.

And a planned Altadena bike boulevard was given teeth when the Supervisors voted to require traffic calming measures, rather than merely allowing as called for in the plan.


Legal update: DUI driver arraigned for injuring Adam Rybicki, Valencia sentencing today

May 25, 2011

These days, it seems like there are as many court cases involving cyclists than there are riders on the streets.

Fortunately, cyclist/attorney Dj Wheels has done his usual great job of keeping us up to date with the latest legal proceedings — including charges against the under-aged, allegedly intoxicated driver who ran down who hit Adam Rybicki head on, and Thursday’s sentencing for Marco Antonio Valencia, convicted in the hit-and-run DUI death of Joseph Novotny.

Editor’s Note: While Dj Wheels provided updates on these cases, any commentary or information beyond the actual status of the cases are mine. So blame me, not him.

Jaclyn Andrea Garcia:  Charges were filed May 19th at the Torrance Courthouse for the DUI collision that critically injured cyclist Adam Rybicki this past April. The Supervising Judge recused all the judges there from hearing the case, with no public explanation for his actions; however, rumor has it that Garcia’s mother is a court reporter in Torrance, which would explain the recusal.

As a result, arraignment was held Tuesday in Department 5 of the Inglewood Courthouse, Case #YA081126. Garcia’s attorney, George Bird, entered a plea of not guilty to all four counts:

1) CVC 23153(a) – DUI w/ injury
2) CVC 23153(b) – DUI w/ BAC over .08 and injury
3) CVC 23153(a) – DUI w/ injury
4) CVC 23153(b) – DUI w/ BAC over .08 and injury

Bird also informed the court on the record that his client has voluntarily surrendered her driver’s license, entered into a three-month alcohol program, voluntarily attended 18 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and has begun electronic alcohol monitoring with the SCRAM device made famous by Hollywood’s favorite outlaw.

Too bad it’s just a little too late.

Had Garcia sobered up a few months earlier, Adam Rybicki might not be in a coma right now, the victim of a 20-year old woman still drunk and behind the wheel at 7:15 in the morning.

And you can bet that none of the actions Garcia took in surrendering her license or entering rehab were her idea; it was no doubt ordered by her attorney in an attempt to show remorse and get his client released with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

After all, it’s worked for any number of Hollywood celebrities, whose first stop after hitting the tabloids is usually a stint in luxury rehab.

And by all accounts, Garcia’s high-priced attorney knows what he’s doing. Maybe if Dr. Thompson’s attorney had ordered him straight into rehab, he might be a free man today.

Let’s hope that the court takes this case seriously, and doesn’t let yet another driver buy her way out of taking responsibility.

Speaking of the infamous Good Doctor:

Dr. Christopher Thompson:  The date for oral arguments has been continued upon the court’s own motion in the appeal of Dr. Thompson’s conviction for intentionally injuring two cyclists in Mandeville Canyon by slamming on his brakes in front of them.  The new date is now 6/29/11.

Marco Antonio ValenciaValenica was convicted last month in the hit-and run DUI death of cyclist Joseph Novotny. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for today (Thursday) at the San Fernando Court; he faces up to 24 year to life in prison.

Shawn Fields:  Fields is charged with the hit-and-run DUI death of 17-year old cyclist Danny Marin in Pacoima last October. Fields reportedly told investigators that he thought he might have hit something, because he remembered seeing sparkly dust flying over him — from the windshield shattered by Marin’s body. Pretrial/Trial Setting Conference is scheduled for 6/22.

Patrick Roraff & Brett Morin:  Roraff and Morin are charged with causing the death of rising pro cyclist Jorge Alvarado in April of last year. The two were allegedly street racing when Roraff lost control and slammed into Alvarado, who was riding on the opposite shoulder. Pretrial conference is scheduled for 7/7.

Stephanie Drew Segal:  Segal is charged with the hit-and-run DUI death of cyclist James Laing in Agoura last year (notice a theme here?). She allegedly plowed into Laing after leaving a local wine tasting room, and entered into a rehab facility after her arrest. Preliminary setting is scheduled for 6/28; Wheels notes that the docket says the DA has been ordered to have victims present, which is unusual for this type of hearing.

Renato Demartino:  Demartino is charged with the hit-and-run death of 22-year old cyclist Marco Acuapan, who died in April, four months after he was allegedly hit by Demartino’s car while riding in a bike lane in Tustin. A pretrial conference scheduled for 6/1.

Danae Marie Miller:  Miller is charged with the death of world-class triathlete Amine Britel; she was allegedly drunk and texting when she rear-ended Britel, who was riding in a marked bike lane. Pretrial conference scheduled for 7/15.

Captain John David Hines:  Hines, a Long Beach Fire Captain, is accused of plowing into cyclist Jeffrey Gordon, then fleeing the scene, despite legal, and professional, obligations to stop and render aid. He had allegedly been drinking for hours in a local bar before getting behind the wheel, and had a BAC of .24 at the time of his arrest — three times the legal limit. And once again, he reportedly checked into rehab right after his arrest. Pretrial conference scheduled for 6/17.

Satnam Singh:  Singh is charged with killing 20-year old college student Nick Haverland in yet another hit-and-run DUI — this time, in a hit-and-run rampage involving three separate collisions in a matter of minutes that left five people injured and Haverland dead. Pretrial conference scheduled for 6/14; Singh remains in custody with the Ventura County Sheriff.


Two more bike deaths add to a bloody spring

April 24, 2011

Just two days after writing about the unacceptably high rate of cycling deaths on SoCal streets, we have two more to add to the list.

One was killed in an apparent solo collision Friday night; the other succumbed earlier this month to injuries suffered last November.

In the most recent case, a man was found lying dead on top of his bike on the side of the road in Coachella, at the intersection of Avenue 50 and Peter Rabbit Lane. Despite initial reports of a hit-and-run, police investigators concluded that the rider, who has not been publicly identified, was the victim of a solo collision.

According to KPSP-2, the victim was riding on the sidewalk at a high rate of speed about 8:03 pm Friday when he collided with a traffic light pole. Police investigators suggest he lost control of his bike after gaining speed on the downhill side of a railroad track overpass.

A police spokesperson indicates that the victim’s bike did not have an “operable brake system” or front headlight; that probably means he was riding a fixie, in which the fixed gearing itself can be used to stop the bike.

In the other case, 22-year old cyclist Marco Acuapan died on April 8th, over 4 months after he was injured in a Tustin hit-and-run.

Acuapan was riding west in a marked bike lane on Walnut Avenue near Browning Avenue about 7:30 pm on Wednesday, November 17th when he was rear-ended by red 2010 Mustang, which fled the scene. He suffered severe head injuries and taken to a hospital in critical condition, remaining in a coma until his death this month.

Witnesses provided police with a description and the license number of the car, which police later found abandoned in nearby cul-de-sac; Renato Demartino was arrested at his home on suspicion of felony hit-and-run.

Demartino is currently released on bond on charges of felony hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury, unsafe turn or lane change, and not using headlights after dark. No word yet on when charges will be upgraded to reflect the victim’s death.

That makes 26 cycling deaths in Southern California this year; 23 resulting from collisions after the first of the year, and 2 from shootings while riding.

Thanks to Rick Risemberg for the tip on the Coachella collision, and an anonymous tipster for the information about Acuapan’s death and charges against Demartino.


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