A man was arrested and is expected to be arraigned today on vehicular manslaughter and other charges related to accusations he was intoxicated while driving in November 2010 and causing a crash that killed a passenger inside his vehicle that went up in flames.
Gruesome as the case is, it's not that unusual for Orange County's blood-soaked roadways until one considers what 20-year-old Santa Anan Jose Luis Gomez Nava was allegedly on: nitrous oxide gas or laughing gas.
At around 7:40 p.m. on Nov. 20, 2010, Nava was behind the wheel, 15-year-old friend Steve Gomez was in the passenger seat and Roman Gomez, 19, and Elvira Orejel, 18, were in the back as the car hit speeds over 80 mph in a 45-mph zone heading south on Fairview Street toward MacArthur Boulevard in Santa Ana.
While driving, Nava was huffing nitrous oxide gas from balloons, alleges the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA), which accuses him at one point of dropping his head and releasing his hands from the steering wheel, causing him to lose control of his vehicle that went up onto the center median and crashed into a pine tree.
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The impact of the crash mangled the front end and caused the car to catch on fire. Steve Gomez, who was trapped inside, died at the scene from multiple blunt force trauma injuries. Santa Ana Police officers were able to pry open the car enough to release Orejel, who was taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange for treatment of a broken leg. Roman Gomez got out on his own and was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana with abrasions to his chest and knee.
Nava, who was comatose, was removed from the car by Santa Ana Fire responders and taken to UCI Medical Center with severe head and thermal injuries and a broken clavicle. He is accused of having had balloons in his pants pocket. A gas cylinder, valve knob for the gas cylinder and a balloon were found on the center median grass near the crash site, the OCDA claims.
On March 24, prosecutors filed these charges against Nava: one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated with sentencing enhancements and allegations for causing great bodily injury and causing great bodily injury to more than one victim. However, he was not arrested until today by Santa Ana Police due to his several months in medical care. Nava is scheduled to be arraigned today in Santa Ana with a bail amount yet to be determined.
Not exactly a laughing matter: Nava could get up to 14 years in state prison if convicted of the charges pending against him.