Brittany Schuetz, at her booking in January of last year.
Brittany Schuetz, at her booking in January of last year.
Courtesy of Orange County District Attorney's Office

[UPDATED:] "DWI Deaths: Is It Murder?" Plays Out in Santa Ana Courtroom

UPDATE: Drunken driver is convicted of murder, faces 15 years to life in prison . . .

In "DWI Deaths: Is It Murder?" last year on 60 Minutes, correspondent Bob Simon talked to people on both side of the debate over whether murder charges should be brought against drunken drivers in some cases where crashes result in deaths. Speaking in favor of murder charges was Kathleen Rice, district attorney of Nassau County, New York.

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Rice gets an, "Amen, sister" from Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, based on a trial that opened a murder conviction his office won today in Santa Ana.

Brittany Schuetz, who is now 21, in 2007 attended and completed alcohol awareness classes during which she was instructed about the dangers of drinking and driving. Yet, on the night of Jan. 31, 2009, she consumed several alcoholic drinks at a party and, after midnight, she got behind the wheel to leave the party despite her friends' pleas that she not drive and offers to find her a ride home.

At about 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2009, Schuetz drove at high speeds on Beach Boulevard in a black 2003 Mazda 6. She entered the intersection at Beach Boulevard and Imperial Highway against a red light. After running the red light, her car struck victim April Whang's vehicle, which was traveling eastbound on Imperial Highway from Beach Boulevard on a green light.  The impact of the crash threw Whang from the driver's seat to the cargo area of her 2004 Acura Integra.

La Habra Police arrived at the scene to find Schuetz sitting in the driver's seat of her car. She showed signs of being stinking drunk, emitting a strong odor of alcohol from her breath, having bloodshot and watery eyes, and not being able to answer any of the basic questions asked by investigating officers. Her blood alcohol level was over the legal limit.  

Whang, 26, of Fullerton, died at the scene. More than 1,000 people attended the funeral for the ice hockey player, former figure skater and store manager at The Rinks Anaheim Ice.

Schuetz was convicted today of one felony count of murder, and she faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in state prison at her April 30 sentencing in Santa Ana.


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