CHULA VISTA, Calif. — A Chula Vista woman accused of veering off the road while drunk and crashing into the Otay Reservoir, killing her 5-year-old daughter and another child, was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on gross vehicular manslaughter and other charges.
After a daylong preliminary hearing, South Bay Judge Ana Espana found that enough evidence was presented for 22-year-old Arlene Anna Hernandez to stand trial on charges of manslaughter, felony child abuse and DUI causing injury.
The defendant faces 13 years and eight months behind bars if convicted.
Authorities said the defendant lost control of her 2005 Kia Sedona on eastbound Otay Lakes Road shortly after 6 p.m. on Aug. 5. The vehicle tumbled down an embankment near Wueste Road, overturned, landed on its roof in the water and sank, California Highway Patrol Officer Omar Morales said.
Hernandez and her front sear passenger, Eric Figueroa, got out, but Figueroa’s daughter Giuliana and the defendant’s daughter, Lesette Silva, remained inside in the back seat until Border Patrol agents and several area residents pulled them out.
The children were airlifted to Rady Children’s Hospital, where they were declared dead.
At the hearing today, Eric Figueroa refused to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
CHP Officer Brad Clinkscales said Figueroa told him he met Hernandez a few months earlier and their daughters played together.
On the day of the accident, Hernandez and Figueroa arranged a “play date” with their girls and met at a Ralphs grocery store, Clinkscales said.
Figueroa bought a six-pack of beer, and Hernandez drove the four to a park, where they had about three beers each and, for several hours, watched their girls play in an area where water shoots out of the ground, the officer said Figueroa told him.
Hernandez saw some skydivers and said she wanted to give her daughter an up-close look, so they got in the car and drove toward the area, Clinkscales said Figueroa told him.
Figueroa said he was blindfolded during the drive because Hernandez had a “surprise.” He said he didn’t know anything was wrong until he heard yelling and minivan careened out of control.
Once in the water, Figueroa and Hernandez freed themselves from the sinking car and said they tried to go back for their girls, but were unable to do so and began shouting for help, Clinkscales testified.
The officer who arrested Hernandez smelled alcohol on her breath. An odor of alcohol was also coming from Figueroa when he was interviewed at the scene, Clinkscales said.
Hernandez’s blood-alcohol level was measured at .13 percent after the crash, the officer said.
At CHP headquarters, Clinkscales said Hernandez told him that she had purchased a 12-pack of beer earlier in the day and put it in a cooler in the van, along with snacks for the children.
Regarding the accident, Hernandez said she was driving with one hand when she spotted a rock in the road and swerved to avoid it, sending the van off the road.
Clinkscales said he found no tire marks or gouges in the road to indicate Hernandez swerved to miss a rock or hit a rock.
Hernandez, held in lieu of $400,000 bail, is also charged in a November 2011 hit-and-run accident in which two people were injured. She is due in court Dec. 17 for arraignment.
By Kelly Wheeler, City News Service