DUI suspect in fatal freeway wreck pleads not guilty

EL CAJON, Calif. -- A Spring Valley man accused of driving under the influence when he crashed his car on state Route 94 near Rancho San Diego, killing one of his two female passengers, pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and manslaughter charges and was ordered held without bail.

Rene Ruiz, 27, faces 15 years to life in prison plus five years if convicted in the crash Monday afternoon that claimed the life of Melanie Alexandra Feliciano.

Melanie Feliciano's family shared this image of her with FOX 5 Thursday.

Ruiz has a prior DUI conviction from 2011, according to a criminal complaint. Besides murder, Ruiz is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of drugs causing injury, hit-and- run with death, possession of a controlled substance and driving on a suspended license.

Ruiz wasn't just driving drunk but had a mix of drugs in his system, Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright said, "Everything from cocaine metabolites, to amphetamine pcp, alcohol he had marijuana metabolites, there was a lot going on."

According to the California Highway Patrol, Ruiz was behind the wheel of an eastbound 1999 Mercedes-Benz sedan that veered off the freeway in the Casa de Oro area around 2 p.m.

The Prosecutor the mix of drugs in his body caused Ruiz to fall asleep at the wheel. The vehicle crossed onto a dirt shoulder near Sweetwater Springs Boulevard, hit a guardrail, became airborne and overturned, CHP public affairs Officer Travis Garrow said. After tumbling side over side across the median, the car came to rest on its wheels on the center shoulder of westbound SR-94, its roof crushed.

At that point, Ruiz got out of the crumpled vehicle and ran off along with his 22-year-old girlfriend who had been riding in the front passenger seat, leaving Feliciano trapped inside the wreckage.

“He and front passenger chose to run from the scene run from across the freeway into the community where they were trying to hide from police,” Bright said.

CHP personnel and sheriff's deputies searched the area, finding Ruiz and the young woman hiding in a canyon near the site of the wreck about 2:45 p.m., Garrow said.

Neither Ruiz or his girlfriend made any calls to 911. Ruiz did not admit to being the driver until he was in custody.

Feliciano -- who at the time of the crash was seated, unrestrained, on the center console of the car, between the driver and passenger seats -- was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Medics took Ruiz and his girlfriend to hospitals for treatment of serious injuries both had suffered in the crash.

Investigators are also trying to determine if speed was a factor in the crash.  Currently, Ruiz’s girlfriend is not facing any charges. However, Bright said that could change as the investigation continues.

Ruiz will be back in court Sept. 28