[UPDATED with Suspect Speaking, Service Parking:] Austin Jeffrey Farley Charged With Murder in DUI Death of Ashton Sweet
UPDATE, JUNE 6, 12:33 P.M.: The Irvine Police Department has released parking details for the throng of media and mourners expected at this evening's memorial service for Ashton Sweet, who was killed in a Memorial Day weekend DUI crash.
Meanwhile, the accused murderer of the 14-year-old Irvine freshmen cheerleader says in a published interview that he is a "human being" and not the "monster" the media make him out to be.
"As a human being, as a person, I feel terrible for their family," Austin Jeffrey Farley tells the Daily Pilot, whose Lauren Williams interviewed the 26-year-old Irvine man from behind a glass partition at Orange County Jail in Santa Ana.
"They're making me out to be a monster, and I'm not," he reportedly continued. "Like any average American human being with a heart, it's a tragedy. Whether I was in the accident or not, I would be upset. I'm not an animal. I'm just a person."
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He did not deny nor claim responsibility for the crash, which has earned him a possible 22-years-to-life sentence in state prison. Farley earlier pleaded not guilty to one felony count of murder and one felony count of driving under the influence causing bodily injury with sentencing enhancement allegations for causing great bodily injury or death to more than one victim and inflicting great bodily injury.
According to the Pilot piece, Farley would not discuss the circumstances of the May 28 crash. Sporting a shaven head and a left arm sleeved with tattoos, he did reportedly talk about his long criminal rap sheet, which he blamed on obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"It's an anxiety disorder that has been torturing me for years," Farley reportedly said. "It hasn't made life easy for me. Every little daily routine is more difficult."
Told that the other passengers of the car Sweet was riding in are expected to make full recoveries, Farley reportedly exclaimed, "Great!"
Today's memorial service for Sweet begins at 5 p.m. at Chinese Baptist Church of Central Orange County in Irvine, but city police, who are handling traffic control during the duration of the services, has set up a reserved parking area at the east edge of Canyon View Elementary School, which is directly across the street from the church at 12012 Yale Court. The public can begin parking there at 3 p.m.
Sweet's family has allowed media inside the service, but videography and photography will be limited to pool representatives
UPDATE, JUNE 3, 10:59 A.M.: A public memorial service for Ashton Sweet, the 14-year-old Irvine girl killed in a Memorial Day weekend DUI crash, is set for 5 p.m. Monday at Chinese Baptist Church of Central Orange County, 12012 Yale Court, Irvine.
The church is near Northwood High School, where Sweet was a freshman cheerleader.
"The service will be open to all who wish to come," Elizabeth Sweet, the girl's mother, tells The Orange County Register. "We will wear one of Ashton's favorite colors--green--as a celebration of life and renewal."
The mother tells the Santa Ana daily that every day is a struggle, but she has found comfort--or delayed grief--in keeping busy preparing for the service, the condolences from the community and the knowledge that the lives of others are being extended thanks to donations of her daughter's organs.
One Legacy, an organ-donation group, reportedly informed Mrs. Sweet that Ashton's heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas will be donated to six people. Her liver was split in two parts to go to two patients, and each kidney went to different people. Ashton's corneas, skin and other tissue will also be donated to those in need.
In other crash-related news, 15-year-old Krista Merassa, who was critically injured and had been the last passenger in her car still hospitalized, is now recovering at home.
UPDATE, JUNE 1, 6:09 P.M.: The Orange County district attorney's office amended the charges today against Austin Jeffrey Farley. But whatever prosecutors threw at the 26-year-old Irvine man, he pleaded not guilty to them at today's arraignment in Newport Beach.
Actually, he declared his innocence to one felony count of murder and one felony count of driving under the influence causing bodily injury with sentencing enhancement allegations for causing great bodily injury or death to more than one victim and inflicting great bodily injury.
However one slices it, the amended charges could draw Farley slightly more prison time if he is convicted of Ashton Sweet's murder: He could now get 22 years to life in state prison.
Still being held on $1 million bail, Farley has a pretrial hearing scheduled for June 24 and a preliminary hearing set for July 15, both at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.
In another heart-breaking development, Farley's mother said today she would give her own life to bring the back 14-year-old Sweet, who, like her son, attended Irvine's Northwood High School.
"Our family, including Austin, is deeply saddened by this horrible traffic accident, which has caused such tragic consequences to those involved, including their families," Cynthia Farley said through her son's attorney (and via The Orange County Register) before the defendant's court appearance.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to them during their time of grief," she continued. "While I find myself searching for reasons, as this awful event is investigated, I would personally give my life if it would bring back Ashton Sweet."
UPDATE, JUNE 1, 12:17 P.M.: Alleged drunken driver Austin Jeffrey Farley has been charged with murder in the early Saturday crash in Irvine that killed 14-year-old Ashton Sweet. The 26-year-old Irvine resident, who was alleged to have a blood-alcohol level that was 2.5 times over the legal limit to drive, also faces charges of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury with a sentencing enhancement for intentionally and personally inflicting and causing great bodily injury.
The Orange County district attorney's office statement below reveals Farley could get up to 20 years to life in state prison if convicted:
June 1, 2011
DRUNKEN DRIVER TO BE ARRAIGNED ON MURDER CHARGE FOR KILLING TEENAGER AND INJURING FOUR OTHERS IN MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND CRASH
SANTA ANA - The Orange County District Attorney's Office filed charges today against a drunken driver for murdering a teenager and injuring four others in a Memorial Day Weekend crash. Austin Jeffrey Farley, 26, Irvine, is charged with one felony count each of murder and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury with a sentencing enhancement for intentionally and personally inflicting and causing great bodily injury. If convicted, Farley faces a maximum sentence of 20 years to life in state prison. The defendant is being held on $1 million bail and is scheduled to be arraigned today, June 1, 2011, at 3:00 p.m. in Department CJ-1, Central Jail, Santa Ana.
On the evening of May 28, 2011, Farley is accused of leaving his truck at a friend's Irvine home, taking a cab to a bar with his girlfriend, and consuming alcohol. The defendant is accused of leaving the bar with his girlfriend and taking a cab back to his truck. He is accused of getting into his 2003 Dodge Dakota to take his girlfriend to get food and driving under the influence of alcohol.
At approximately 1:15 a.m. on May 29, 2011, Farley is accused of driving southbound on Culver Drive toward Irvine Boulevard with his girlfriend. Driving northbound on Culver Drive toward Irvine Boulevard, Mohammad G., 48-year-old father of 15-year-old Parisa G., was driving home his daughter and her three teenage friends. At the intersection, Farley is accused of making a left-hand turn against a red arrow into Mohammad G.'s Mercedes-Benz sedan, which was entering the intersection on a green light. The defendant is accused of crashing into the driver's side of Mohammad G.'s car with four teenage girls inside. The impact of the crash caused fatal injuries to the left rear passenger, 14-year-old Ashton Sweet, who suffered brain swelling, a skull fracture, collapsed lung, facial, rib, and spinal fractures, and traumatic brain injury. The other three girls sustained injuries, 14-year-old Krista M., who was sitting in the middle rear seat, sustained a broken nose, rib fracture, lacerated spleen, lung injuries, and was rendered unconscious . Allison R., 15, seated in the rear right seat, Parisa G., seated in the front passenger seat, and Mohammad G. suffered minor injuries.
The Irvine police were contacted and arrived at the scene. The victims were taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where the Mohammad G., Parisa G., and Allison R. were treated and released. Krista M. was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit. Sweet was pronounced brain dead at 5:00 a.m. due to the injuries she sustained in the crash.
At the scene, Farley is accused of displaying objective signs of intoxication including being disorientated, emitting a strong odor of alcohol, slurring his speech, and having bloodshot, watery eyes. The defendant is accused of not being able to keep his balance when he got out of his car. Farley is accused of having a blood alcohol content of .20 percent, two and a half times the legal limit.
Farley 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 June 18, 2009. At his sentencing, the judge advised Farley 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.
The case was investigated by the Irvine Police Department. Senior Deputy District Attorney Alison Gyves of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.
UPDATE, JUNE 1, 8:58 A.M.: Alleged drunken driver Austin Jeffrey Farley, who is being held in lieu of $1 million bail for causing the early Saturday crash in Irvine that killed 14-year-old Ashton Sweet, is due in court today.
It's a place the 26-year-old Irvine man knows very, very well.
As The Orange County Register's Ronald Campbell reports, Farley has pleaded guilty 19 times in local courts over the past seven years. The charges have included contempt of court, misdemeanor drunken driving, violating a protective order, battery (including once on a peace officer or emergency worker), dissuading a witness from reporting a crime and refusing to take a chemical test while his license was suspended.
The most serious charges were ultimately dismissed: assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm and battery with serious bodily injury (both felonies), with sentencing enhancements claiming Farley inflicted or tried to inflict great bodily harm.
UPDATE, MAY 31, 6:39 P.M.: The Irvine Police Department this evening released the booking photo of Austin Jeffrey Farley, the alleged drunken driver with a past DUI conviction blamed for causing the crash that killed 14-year-old Ashton Sweet.
The Northwood High School freshman cheerleader and three other girls were being driven home from a birthday party by a passenger's father around 1 a.m. Saturday when their E-Class Mercedes was struck on the left side by a pickup truck in the Culver Drive and Irvine Boulevard intersection. Farley, 26, was later identified as the truck driver, arrested and held in lieu of $1 million bail.
UPDATE, MAY 31, 3:45 P.M.: Sad but expected news from the Irvine Police Department:
This afternoon, Irvine Police Traffic Investigators were informed by the Orange County Sheriff /Coroner's Office that Ashton Sweet was declared deceased. As previously reported, Ashton's parents had made the determination to allow for organ donation.
. . .
The arrestee in this case, Austin Farley, remains in custody pending his arraignment. Farley's bail has been set at $1 million.
UPDATE, MAY 31, 2:37 P.M.: As more grief counselors were dispatched to Northwood High School in Irvine to help students cope with the loss of a 14-year-old to a driver charged with DUI, word comes that an Orange County state legislator crossed party lines to support a Democrat's bill to regulate sobriety checkpoints.
Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Fullerton) says he voted for Assembly Bill 1389 because checkpoints are "fishing expeditions" for unlicensed drivers.
Norby also complained that cities often make money from the operations by impounding vehicles that often belong to illegal immigrants who can't get licenses and end up stranded.
The legislation introduced by Assemblyman Michael Allen (D-Santa Rosa) passed 51-19 on Friday. If it is ultimately signed by the governor, it would confine checkpoints to streets where drunken driving is a problem.
UPDATE, MAY 31, 9:20 A.M.: The countywide effort to keep drunken drivers off the road Memorial Day weekend resulted in at least 45 arrests by 38 law enforcement agencies. That compares with 41 DUI arrests the previous year--and not all 2011 results are in yet.
But all the DUI enforcement in the world did not spare the life of 14-year-old Ashton Sweet of Irvine.
The Northwood High School freshman cheerleader and three other girls were being driven home from a birthday party by one of the passenger's fathers around 1 a.m. Saturday when the E-Class Mercedes they were in was struck on the left side by a pickup truck in the Culver Drive and Irvine Boulevard intersection.
The father, Michael Ghaemi, 48, and the girls in the Mercedes were all injured. The most seriously injured were Sweet, who suffered an irreversible brain injury that had her on life support, and Krista Merassa, 15, who was listed in critical condition.
Informed by doctors they would be unable to bring Sweet back, her family decided Sunday night to sustain her on a breathing machine so her organs could be evaluated for donation, according to an Irvine Police Department statement.
Sunday morning, police arrested Austin Jeffrey Farley, the 26-year-old driver of the pickup. He was held in lieu of $1 million bail on charges of suspected driving under the influence. In June 2009, Farley pleaded guilty to DUI, battery on a police officer and driving with a suspended license.
A celebration of Sweet's life is scheduled today at Northwood High.
ORIGINAL POST, MAY 27, 7:42 A.M.: The Anaheim Police Department Traffic Bureau is letting you ring in the long holiday weekend--with a sobriety checkpoint on west Ball Road between Gilbert and Magnolia avenues from 8 tonight to 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD)-administered "Avoid the 38" task force from 6 tonight through midnight Monday have DUI checkpoints and saturation patrols running countywide.
"The Avoid the 38 DUI Task Force will have a zero tolerance policy in effect during the enforcement period," Sergeant Mark Daigle of the OCSD Traffic Bureau says in a statement. "If you are caught driving while impaired, you will be arrested and taken to jail. The impact a DUI arrest can have on a driver, as well as their family, is devastating. Think twice before getting behind the wheel and driving impaired."
Besides Anaheim, checkpoints where officers will look for boozehounds behind the wheel and unlicensed drivers will be held tonight in La Habra and Rancho Santa Margarita. Special DUI saturation patrols blanket Anaheim and La Habra tonight as well.
Buena Park holds a DUI checkpoint Saturday night, while Seal Beach runs one Sunday night.
Saturation patrols are also planned over the long weekend in Brea, Buena Park, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, Placentia, Santa Ana, the campus of UC Irvine and OCSD contract cities.
The California Highway Patrol will also make a show of force on freeways and county roads within the agency's jurisdiction.
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