Spike in fatal DUIs over summer draws concern

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis joined law enforcement leaders Tuesday to express their concern over the troubling number of fatal accidents that have occurred over the summer due to drinking and driving.

Eleven people were killed in DUI crashes this summer, including six in August alone.

"This has been a summer of shame when it comes to fatal DUIs," Dumanis said. "The conduct of the individuals who caused these crashes is horrific. We’ve had drunks driving the wrong way the highway, individuals consuming alcohol for hours before getting behind the wheel and a young mother driving with her children in the car while using drugs. Tragically, lives have been lost because of these preventable crimes, which should serve as a wake-up call to anyone even thinking about driving under the influence."

Last year, the DA’s Office launched a DUI Homicide Unit to prosecute fatalities and serious injuries. 

The unit, which was originally made up of two prosecutors and two investigators, has been so busy they have had to rely on additional prosecutors in the office for assistance.

According to Dumanis, last year more than 12,330 DUI-related cases were prosecuted in San Diego County.

Of that number, the District Attorney’s Office prosecuted 363 DUI with injury cases and 17 involving fatalities.

During the same time period, 46 percent of DUI drivers in the county had a blood alcohol content higher than .15 percent – nearly twice the legal limit.

As Labor Day weekend approaches, law enforcement emphasizes their "no tolerance approach" to impaired driving.

“This is one crime that is entirely preventable,” Sheriff Bill Gore said.  “The San Diego Sheriff’s Department has a zero-tolerance policy. You will go to jail if our deputies stop you for driving under the influence.”

“DUI is a 100 percent preventable crime,” said San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.  “People make decisions everyday regarding right and wrong. If you drink and make the terrible decision to drive, that decision may cost you more than a DUI. It might cost you your life or the life of another.”

While this summer showed a spike in fatal accidents, DUI prosecutions across San Diego County are down 29 percent since 2010.

“On behalf of all of the county police chiefs and the sheriff, we are united in eliminating all DUI-related accidents so that no more families need to experience this tragic loss,” said Craig Carter, President of the San Diego County Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Association.

Pending fatal DUI criminal cases being prosecuted by the DA’s Office that have occurred since May include:

The People v. Shane McDonald – Defendant was traveling the wrong way in the HOV lane on Interstate 15 and crashed into a car carrying a family of five. Two were killed.

The People v. Jason King – Defendant was traveling the wrong way on California State Route 163 after a night of drinking and plowed into a car with five medical students inside, killing two of them.

The People v. Manuel Vareja Jr. – Defendant was traveling on Interstate 805 when he crashed into the back of a big rig truck leaving the his passenger a quadriplegic.

The People v. Suzanne Elliott – Defendant crashes into a motorcycle with two riders leaving both seriously injured.

The People v. Heriberto Covarrubias – Defendant collides with a tow truck, speeds away eventually t-boning another car with two occupants. Victims sustain shattered pelvis, brain injury and broken ribs.

The People v. Chase Beatty – Defendant consumes alcohol for hours then barrels down a country road crashing into a tree, which killed his passenger.

The People v. Anthony Rodriguez – Defendant crashes head-on into an oncoming car after hours of drinking at a baseball game and multiple bars. The victim died at the scene.

The People v. Brian Mitchell – Defendant hits and seriously injures a 77-year-old woman crossing the street and speeds away.

The People v. Kevin Laguit – Defendant is speeding on a Chula Vista street before hitting a car with two occupants. One victim suffers a skull fracture and the second sustained minor injuries.

The People v. Christopher Henry – Defendant is driving twice the speed limit when he strikes a motorcyclist head-on. The victim died at the scene.

The People v. James G. Gelrud – Defendant was traveling on U.S. Highway 395 when he crossed the double yellow lines hitting the victim’s car head-on. A third car rear ends the victim, who died at the scene.

The People v. Joshua Taylor – Defendant drove through a red light killing the victim who was walking through a crosswalk.

The People v. Antoni Schoenle – Defendant is traveling on Friars Road after drinking and consuming drugs at an all-night rave when he lost control of his car and crashed. The car caught fire and the two female occupants burned to death.


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