Woman ‘forever haunted’ by deadly DUI crash sentenced

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SAN DIEGO — A 24-year-old woman who was sentenced Friday to nearly a dozen years in state prison for killing another motorist by driving the wrong way while drunk on a San Diego freeway ramp told the victim’s family that she “will be forever haunted” by the choices she made that night.

Lauren Ashley Freeman pleaded guilty in July to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI causing injury in connection with the death of Justin Callahan, 35.

Callahan was initially found to be at fault for the Feb. 26, 2018, collision, but the CHP re-investigated the case after Callahan’s family refuted a CHP news release alleging he caused the crash. The agency later reversed its findings and Freeman was charged last November. She was facing second-degree murder charges prior to entering into a plea agreement that called for an 11-year, eight-month sentence.

The victim was driving home to the Ocean Beach area from his workplace in Chula Vista when the crash occurred just before 2 a.m. on a transition ramp between northbound Interstate 5 and westbound Interstate 8.

Callahan died at the scene, while the defendant and her passenger were hospitalized with major injuries. According to the plea agreement, Freeman had a blood-alcohol content of .28 at the time of the crash.

The position of the vehicles after the crash — with Callahan’s Volkswagen Jetta facing the wrong direction — led investigators to initially suspect he was at fault, according to preliminary hearing testimony. However, it’s believed the impact sent the cars spinning and coming to rest in the opposite directions from which they were originally heading, according to the CHP’s investigation.

Freeman, who was in tears throughout the sentencing hearing, apologized to Callahan’s family and friends in attendance, as well as her own.

“I did think myself smarter and more responsible than to make such an egregious error in judgment and I will forever be haunted by the choices of that night,” Freeman said. “This error in judgment has taken away Justin, the person you all dearly love. And I will never be able to apologize for my actions of that night enough. My actions have brought shame upon me and my family. I’ve disappointed them beyond anything that I could ever imagine doing.”

Freeman’s father, Thomas, also offered his condolences to the Callahan family and assured them that his daughter was not trying to skirt responsibility during the eight-month period in which Callahan was considered at fault for the crash.

He said she had no memory of the events leading up to the crash and that the family was not informed of what exactly what had occurred until after her arrest.

Callahan’s parents, siblings and friends described him as a caring, kind man who was also a talented artist and trying to make a living in graphic design. His mother said he designed the sign on the antique store she owns in their hometown of Wheatland in Yuba County.

Thomas Villafranca read a letter he wrote to his younger brother, in which he described how much he misses him, and was tortured by thoughts of the crash and how his sibling must have felt in his last moments.

“Did you go numb? Did you feel any pain? Were you conscious during those last moments of your life when the blood drained out of your legs from your compound fractures? Did you cry out to our mother? I want to believe that there was no pain, but I have no idea.”

Villafranca said the circumstances behind the crash were “irresponsible and selfish,” and he highlighted the frequency of drunken driving fatalities.

“There’s probably a trial going on next door for one (of these cases). So nobody wins. But here we are,” he said, gesturing to his family in attendance. “All of us here, we’re just another senseless statistic.”

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