An Irvine man who had a drunken driver conviction under his belt when he left a bar and plowed his truck into a car, killing a popular 14-year-old high school student and injuring four others, was sentenced today to 21 years to life in state prison.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Brandlin presided over the case–and handed down the maximum sentence–because all Orange County judges recused themselves. Jessica Rodriguez, who was in defendant Austin Jeffrey Farley's pickup at the time of the collision, is Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis Rodriguez's daughter.
Brandlin handed down the sentence today in LA, but the trial was held in Westminster, where a jury on Oct. 7 found Farley guilty of felony second degree murder and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury with a sentencing enhancement for personally inflicting and causing great bodily injury and driving with blood alcohol .08 percent or more causing bodily injury.
Farley and Rodriguez, his girlfriend at the time, drank at a bar the evening of May 28, 2011, and then left via a cab to his truck parked at a friend's home, driving off for a food run. Heading south on Culver Drive in Irvine around 1:15 in the morning, Farley made a left-hand turn against a red light, plowing into the driver's side of a Mercedes-Benz sedan that had a green light.
The Benz driver and his teen daughter, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, suffered minor injuries from the impact of the crash. But a 14-year-old girl named Krista in one back seat was knocked unconscious and sustained a broken nose, a rib fracture, a lacerated spleen and lung injuries. Sitting next to her, Ashton Sweet, 14, suffered brain swelling, a skull fracture, collapsed lung, facial, rib, and spinal fractures and a traumatic brain injury. She died at Western Medical Center Santa Ana a 5 that morning.
An hour and 45 minutes after the crash, Farley had a blood alcohol content of .20 percent, two and a half times the legal limit, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).
“Farley had 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,” reads an OCDA statement. “At his sentencing in that case, the judge advised Farley that he could be prosecuted for murder if he killed someone while driving under the influence.”
The jury rejected the defense argument that Farley did not cause the collision but Rodriguez did when she hit her then beau during a verbal fight just before the accident.
“When you talk about nightmares, they have already passed. This nightmare does not pass,” Sweet's mother Elizabeth said today in a victim impact statement to the court. “My soul feels weary, as if I've lived far too long.”