Orange County District Attorney
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
For Immediate Release
December 9, 2009
Susan Kang Schroeder
DISTRACTED DRIVER CONVICTED OF KILLING
2-YEAR-OLD GIRL BY FAILING TO STOP AND CRASHING INTO BACK OF SUV
SANTA ANA – A distracted driver was convicted today of crashing into the back of a sport utility vehicle, killing a 2-year-old toddler in her child safety seat. Armstrong Owen Kitchen, 39, Riverside, pleaded guilty to the court to one misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter by unlawful act without gross negligence and one misdemeanor count of possession or marijuana while driving. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 120 days in jail, which is stayed pending successful completion of his probation. He was also ordered to complete 300 hours of community service at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving office and has had his driver’s license suspended for 18 months.
At approximately 10:50 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2008, John Sales was driving northbound on California State Route 55 on his way home from a doctor’s appointment with his two sick children, 2-year-old Sophia and 3-month-old Connor. The children were in their child safety seats in the back of the sport utility vehicle. While driving on the freeway, a sedan in front of the victim’s car had a tire blow out and turned on its hazard lights to slow to a stop. Due to the solid flow of traffic, Sales was unable to change lanes and instead safely applied his brakes and came to a stop behind the sedan.
Kitchen was driving between 55 and 65 mph in his Chevrolet pick-up truck behind the victim’s car. The defendant failed to pay attention while driving and slammed into the back of Sales’ stopped car, forcing it into the disabled sedan. The back of Sales’ car and the front of Kitchen’s car were severely damaged.
A California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer witnessed the crash and quickly responded to assist the victims. As the officer and Sales attempted to check on the two children in the back seat, Kitchen’s car ignited in flames. The officer and Sales quickly removed Connor and an unconscious Sophia for fear that the Sales’ car might also catch on fire.
When additional officers arrived at the scene, Kitchen was found to be in possession of marijuana in his truck. The defendant was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash. All three victims and the defendant were transported to the hospital. Sophia died at 5:45 p.m. due to blunt force trauma to her head and chest.
Sophia’s mother, Wendy Sales, gave a tearful victim impact statement today explaining her sadness that her little girl would never have the opportunity to experience life, and expressing her grief that baby Connor would grow up never knowing or having memory of his big sister. Kitchen briefly addressed the court and apologized to the Sales family for taking the life of their baby girl.
The law describing the distinction between misdemeanor and felony manslaughter: