ESCONDIDO, Calif. — The family of two teens killed in an 2018 DUI crash are protesting in Escondido this weekend for stricter punishments after the driver who collided with their car was arrested a second time for driving under the influence.
In March 2018, Ana Lira and Brandon Contreras were involved in a broadside collision in an intersection along El Norte Parkway. Both were 19 years old.
The other driver — the then 27-year-old Francisco Alvarez — ran a red light, crashing into the side of Lira and Contreras’ vehicle. Alvarez was under the influence of marijuana and cocaine at the time of the crash.
Contreras, who was driving their car, was thrown from the car after impact and landed in a nearby yard. Lira was riding as a passenger in the backseat of the vehicle. According to authorities, both were declared dead on scene.
A 15-year-old passenger was also in Contreras’ car during the crash. They suffered serious injuries, but were fortunate enough to survive.
Alvarez pleaded guilty to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence causing injury in the case.
In June 2022, he was sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison. However, a judge ruled that Alvarez could remain out on bail before starting his sentence because of an ongoing appeals process.
Now, Lira and Contreras’ families are asking for people to sign a petition to put the person responsible away for a longer sentence and sooner rather than later.
“(I have felt) so angry, emotional for five years,” Jessica Lira, the mother of Ana, said through a sign language translator. “And now a second time, why is he driving.”
“My daughter Lira … needs the support for the man to go to jail for life,” she added.
Allowing a defendant to stay out of jail on bail is usually allowed by judges in certain cases if there is an ongoing appeal, criminal defense attorney and legal analyst Gretchen von Helms explained.
“What I suspect is that he had pled guilty, he comported himself well during the process. He was probably on a ‘SCRAM’ alcohol monitoring bracelet, probably had not had any alcohol during that time,” she explained. “That’s probably why the judge thought he’d be an OK candidate for bail pending appeal.”
However, last month, Alvarez found himself back in the courtroom to address another DUI arrest from July of this year.
Court documents show he faces two felony DUI charges with prior felony convictions. The new charges carry a maximum sentence of three years under current law.
While von Helms is not connected to either case, she said the judge in Alvarez’s deadly DUI case could revoke his bail because of the new DUI arrest.
“First the eight years, then the three years … It could also be run concurrent or together,” von Helms said about the options for how these sentences could be carried out if Alvarez is convicted on the new charges. “I don’t know what the judge is going to decide. Obviously, (he is) presumed innocent at this stage.”
While the law is ever-changing in favor of victims, high recidivism rates remain a big issue with DUI cases, von Helms explained — likely due to alcohol’s presence in society and difficulties those struggling with substance abuse face in seeking treatment.
Jail records show Alvarez remains in custody as of Friday afternoon. The appeals process for the DUI crash remains ongoing at this time. As for the second DUI case, he is due back in court later this month on Sept. 27 for a readiness conference.