A state appellate court panel today upheld a former ambulance driver's conviction for an alcohol-fueled, head-on crash in Temescal Canyon that killed an 18-year-old college student nearly five years ago.
A three-justice panel from California's 4th District Court of Appeal rejected the defense's contention that the seizure and downloading of data from a sensing diagnostic module in Elva Diaz's Chevrolet Tahoe without a warrant more than a year after the Feb. 20, 2008, crash violated her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In its 25-page ruling, the panel noted the "overwhelming evidence of guilt" and found that "abundant evidence supported the jury's finding of gross negligence."
Diaz was convicted in July 2011 of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated for causing the crash at Knabe Road and Claystone Avenue that killed Rachel Amaris Elliott.
The justices noted that Diaz's blood-alcohol level was measured as 0.20 percent at 2:58 a.m. -- more than two hours after the wreck -- and was 0.23 at the time of the collision based on the alcohol burnoff rate.
The panel also cited undisputed evidence established that Diaz had "violated the law by crossing over two sets of double yellow lines in the median of Knabe Road and had been driving the wrong way in the northbound lanes at the time of the collision."
The justices noted that the chief of the California Highway Patrol's Inland Division Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) had estimated that the Tahoe had been traveling at 76 mph at the time of the crash, but conceded that he could not estimate speed at the point of impact without the data from the sensing diagnostic module. Diaz -- who was sentenced in August 2011 to 10 years in prison -- had spent hours drinking with her boyfriend and others at the Sportsman's Bar on Temescal Canyon Road, according to trial testimony.
Placentia police Detective Zachary Palumbo, who was dating Diaz at the time, testified that both he and the defendant were under the influence and that he tried to dissuade her from driving away, but she refused to listen.
Diaz traveled less than a mile on Knabe Road before crashing her pickup truck into Elliott's Honda Accord. According to testimony, Diaz crossed into opposing traffic and ran straight into the honors student while speeding. The young woman died hours later at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar, while Diaz suffered minor injuries.
Elliott was studying to be a forensic scientist and had been an active participant in her high school's "Every 15 Minutes" program, which emphasizes the dangers of drinking and driving. --City News Service