[UPDATED with Conviction:] Gustavo Adrian Vega, Repeat Drunken Driver Accused of Murdering Cara Alexandra Lee, Stands Trial
UPDATE, JUNE 30, 4:58 P.M.: A jury today found second-time drunken driver Gustavo Adrian Vega guilty of murder, hit-and-run resulting in death and possession of cocaine for the Valentine's Day 2010 crash in Costa Mesa that killed 20-year-old aspiring model Cara Alexandra Lee.
Vega, 23, of Costa Mesa, could get 19 years and eight months to life in state prison at his Sept. 16 sentencing in Santa Ana.
Deputy District Attorney Jason Baez informed jurors Vega's blood alcohol was twice above the legal limit the night of the crash.
As part of his guilty plea to a 2006 drunken-driving crash, Vega signed an acknowledgment that he could be prosecuted for murder if he killed someone while driving under the influence. A condition of his sentence was that he complete alcohol awareness courses on the dangers of drinking and driving.
UPDATE, JUNE 15, 10:14 A.M.: Well, that didn't take long.
Thirteen days after a judge declared a mistrial because two defense witnesses failed to show up to the drunken driving murder case against Gustavo Adrian Vega, opening statements are expected today in the Costa Mesa 23-year-old's second trial.
He is accused of being a convicted drunken driver who knew the dangers of climbing behind the wheel drunk before doing just that and causing a crash that killed Cara Alexandra Lee, 20, on Valentine's Day 2010.
UPDATE, JUNE 2, 8:47 A.M.: A judge Wednesday declared a mistrial in the murder case against Costa Mesa's Gustavo Adrian Vega, who is accused of being a convicted drunken driver who knew the dangers of climbing behind the wheel drunk before doing just that and causing a crash that killed Cara Alexandra Lee, 20, on Valentine's Day 2010.
Two defense witnesses failing to show up to the Santa Ana courthouse prompted the mistrial. Prosecutors will be back in court Friday to try to secure a new trial date.
ORIGINAL POST, JUNE 1, 8:02 A.M.: Costa Mesa's Gustavo Adrian Vega stands trial for murder this morning, but the 23-year-old former Orange Coast College student did not kill with a gun, knife or strangling hands, according to prosecutors.
In an infrequently used legal move, Vega is being tried for murder because he was a convicted drunken driver who knew the dangers of climbing behind the wheel drunk before doing just that and causing a crash that took the life an amazing young lady on Valentine's Day 2010.
The crash killed Cara Alexandra Lee, a 20-year-old aspiring model, college student and city of Newport Beach youth recreation leader. She also survived a battle against cancer at age 17.
Shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2010, Lee was riding in a 2003 Toyota Corolla driven by Hao Nguyen, 21. They were on Flower Street heading toward Sunflower Avenue in Costa Mesa when the Corolla was hit by a white 2008 Toyota Tundra that ran a red light. Nguyen was hospitalized with minor injuries, but the force of the crash killed Lee, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
Costa Mesa police officers say the truck driver fled on foot and hid in a nearby housing complex before being captured. Later identified as Vega, he emitted a strong odor of alcohol from his breath, had bloodshot and watery eyes and performed poorly on field sobriety tests, according to police.
Vega is accused of having a blood alcohol level of .17 percent and a "usable amount of cocaine" in his pants pockets. Upon further investigation, police determined he had hit a parked car in the parking lot of a Santa Ana taqueria and knowingly fled the scene without exchanging identifying information with the driver of the other vehicle minutes before the Costa Mesa crash.
He is charged with one felony count of murder, one felony count of hit-and-run resulting in death, one felony count of possession of cocaine, and a misdemeanor hit-and-run involving another victim. If convicted, he could get up to 19 years and eight months to life in state prison. Opening statements are expected to begin at 9 this morning in Santa Ana. Vega pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment.
Why murder and not, say, manslaughter? According to the Orange County District Attorney's office:
The defendant is accused of having prior knowledge that driving while under the influence of alcohol could result in the death of another person based on a prior misdemeanor driving under the influence charge, to which he pleaded guilty on Dec. 11, 2006. . . . The defendant signed an acknowledgement in his guilty plea that he could be prosecuted for murder if he killed someone while driving under the influence. He also learned about the dangers of drinking and driving in alcohol awareness courses as a condition of his sentence.
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