SANTA ANA, Calif. — A California woman with a history of drunken driving faces two counts of murder following a crash last week that killed a young couple and seriously injured their three daughters.
Grace Elizabeth Coleman, 22, of Newport Beach, is charged with two felony counts of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, one felony count of driving with a blood alcohol of 0.08% or more causing bodily injury, and one felony count of hit and run with injury, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. Coleman has also been charged with three felony enhancements of great bodily injury for causing injuries to all three of the couple’s daughters.
The victims were identified as Henry Saldana-Mejia, 27, and Gabriela Andrade, 28, both of Santa Ana. Their daughters, whose names have been withheld, are 5, 4 and 1 year old.
According to prosecutors, the couple and their children were traveling near the intersection of Pelican Hill Road and Newport Coast Drive in Santa Ana the night of the crash.
“Coleman is accused of running a red light and crashing into the family’s vehicle, killing both parents and seriously injuring their three daughters, who were secured in car seats,” authorities said.
Her blood alcohol concentration at the time of the crash was more than 0.20%, nearly three times the legal limit, prosecutors said.
Watch a CBS Los Angeles report on the crash below.
CBS Los Angeles reported that Coleman, who was driving a Range Rover, tried to leave the scene on foot. She was arrested a short distance away, the news station said.
Saldana-Mejia’s sister, Dayana Saldana, has become the children’s temporary legal guardian. She described their injuries for the CBS affiliate.
“Sophia, the 5-year-old, she has two broken legs and a broken arm,” Saldana said. “Elena, the 4-year-old, she has a broken leg and she hit her head. Samantha, one-and a-half-years old, she has a broken ankle.”
News footage from the scene shows Samantha being moved to an ambulance in her child safety seat. The other girls were easily lifted by firefighter medics who were called to the crash site.
Saldana said her brother and his family were driving to pick up his last paycheck at the Pelican Hill Resort, where he had been working in housekeeping. Andrade and the children had been staying indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He wanted to take them for a car ride,” Saldana told the news station. “Just to go out and see. I mean fresh air. That’s it. That’s why they went out.”
Sophia, the oldest of the children, understands that her parents are dead, cousin Jennifer Gutierrez said.
“She tried to wake them up (after the crash),” Gutierrez said.
“She told me they’re in the moon and they’re watching over her,” she said. “She knows. She tried to pull her mom’s hair trying to wake her up. She was crying for help.”
Family members have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay the children’s medical expenses, pay for their parents’ funeral and help with the expense of raising three young children. As of Monday, it had raised more than $305,000, far surpassing the $28,000 goal.
Another fundraising page set up by a local attorney has raised nearly $95,000.
Tuesday’s crash is the second time in under four months that Coleman has been accused of driving under the influence. Prosecutors said she was arrested Aug. 29 in Laguna Beach and charged with one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of alcohol and one misdemeanor count of driving with a blood alcohol of .08% or more.
“Three young girls are orphans because of the selfish decision of a stranger,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “Everyone knows how dangerous drinking and driving or using drugs and driving is, and that it is a crime. Yet over and over again, people choose to get behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs, and they are killing innocent people and destroying lives. This has to stop.
“Children should not have to grow up without their parents because someone decided to make the wrong decision and get behind the wheel while intoxicated.”
Spitzer said the pandemic has resulted in an increase in drug and alcohol use.
“We as members of the community all have a responsibility and duty to stop people who have been drinking or using drugs from driving,” Spitzer said. “Putting a stop to this carnage is a community responsibility.”
Coleman is being held without bond in the Orange County Jail. If convicted on all charges, she faces a maximum sentence of 34 years and eight months to life in state prison.
Cox Media Group