Early in the morning of February 17, 2008, a fight broke out at a house party in Santa Ana. As bystanders raced out of the house, trying to flee the scene, a gray pickup truck careened around the nearest street-corner, nearly collided with parked car, and then fatally struck a young man who never regained consciousness. The truck then reversed, smashed into a brick wall and sped down the street.
At the wheel was Felix Abreu, now 22, a friend of the owner of the vehicle in question, which Santa Ana police found within hours of the party, parked nearby. They questioned him about the incident, but he denied being present at the party until a month later, when police confronted him with the fact that the supposed source of his alibi--a family member who could vouch for his whereabouts that night--was now telling a different story.
Abreu's victim was Arthur Carmona, subject of numerous articles in the Weekly over the years, ever since 1998, when he was 16 years old and wrongfully arrested, prosecuted and convicted of an Irvine robbery. After two years in prison, the Orange County District Attorney's office vacated the charges against him and Carmona struggled to get his life back on track, spending much of his energy as an activist for other wrongfully-convicted individuals.
Because Abreu had no previous criminal record and police were unable to prove he'd been drinking before the hit-and-run by the time he fessed up, he came close to being handed a sentence last December that would allow him to avoid prison time. But today, thanks in large measure to a tireless pursuit of justice in the case by Deputy DA Susan Price and Carmona's mother, Ronnie Sandoval, Superior Court Judge William Froeberg sentenced Abreu to six years in state prison.
The successful prosecution of Carmona's killer, who will still be in his mid-20s when he's released from custody assuming he behaves himself upstate, marks the bittersweet end of the long saga of bad luck that haunted Carmona in life and death. Ironically, or perhaps not, the DA's press release about Abreu's sentencing, released today, makes no mention of Carmona's Kafkaesque journey through Orange County's justice system.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is managing editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).