As Gabrielle Jane Nestande left her second court appearance in Texas related to charges she failed to stop and help a nanny mowed down by the 24-year-old's car, the scion of a powerful Orange County Republican was met today by family members and supporters of the deceased woman. More troubling to Nestande, who worked on Gov. Rick Perry's campaign and had celebrated being honored at the Capitol for her administrative-aide service to an East Texas representative in the hours before the tragedy, was who else stood there.
It was Travis County's Assistant District Attorney Allison Wetzel, who may not be a familiar to Californians but is to Texans who know of her many high-profile prosecutions. The court was informed today that Wetzel is the new lead prosecutor in the case, which signals to the family of the late Courtney Paige Griffin that the DA may seek more serious charges against the daughter of Newport Beach's Bruce Nestande, a former Orange County supervisor and state assemblyman and current GOP insider.
As it stands, Gabrielle Nestande is charged with failure to stop and render aid, a third-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Felony hit-and-run or manslaughter could produce longer prison terms with conviction, as would charges that include the influence of alcohol. Police investigators say Nestande drank in the hours before 30-year-old Griffin was killed, but defense attorneys are quick to note no evidence of such has been produced, something prosecutors acknowledge.
"We still hope that, as a family, stronger charges will be filed against Gabrielle Nestande, so we're hoping for that," Bart Griffin, Courtney's father, told reporters outside the courtroom. "If that information is out there, and that evidence is out there, then we are really going to push that those charges be filed."
Around 5 a.m. on May 27, Griffin's bloodied body was found in the driveway of a home in Austin's Tarrytown community. She had been thrown through a bush, and there was a piece of a broken headlight lens nearby. An anonymous call came in to police around 9 a.m. from someone who spotted a black BMW 3 Series sedan with a broken windshield parked in the driveway of a home about a half-mile from the gruesome discovery.
Cops found the car and, upon closer inspection, saw damage to the front right quarterpanel and bumper, the windshield and the passenger side mirror. Pieces of clothing were lodged in cracks in the windshield. The BMW was traced to Nestande, who had parked at the home of an acquaintance before getting a ride to her job in the legislative office of Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center). Police were told Nestande arrived at the home in tears, saying someone threw something at her car's windshield.
Authorities caught up with her at work. During questioning, she is said to have admitted being the driver, having been involved in an accident but not knowing what to do. She then declined to speak further without first consulting a lawyer. She was arrested and held in jail before making her $35,000 bail. The Travis grand jury later indicted Nestande on the failure to stop and render aid charge.
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Nestande's father was a special assistant to then-Governor Ronald Reagan in the early 1970s and chairman of the state GOP from 1972-73. He got elected to the state Assembly out of Orange County in 1974 and remained in the lower house through 1980. He was an Orange County supervisor from 1980-87. He chaired the California Transportation Commission and, in 1994, Michael Huffington's unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate. Bruce Nestande's son by another mother, Brian Nestande, is a Palm Desert state assemblyman and a powerful GOP player in the Legislature. His half sister attended Baylor University while working as an unpaid intern on Perry's successful 2010 re-election campaign.
As she and her entourage breezed past the 20 or so Griffin family members and supporters this afternoon, the late woman's father told reporters he hoped the spectacle had an "impact" on her.
"Whether it does or not, I don't know," he said. "She left my daughter for dead so it may have no impact on her. But it's good for us, it's good for our family and our friends to be there, to be there to support Courtney, to demand justice for Courtney."