Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
|For Immediate Release
Case # 10HF0233
June 29, 2011
Susan Kang Schroeder
Chief of Staff
SECOND-TIME DRUNKEN DRIVER CONVICTED OF MURDERING ANOTHER PASSENGER
IN VALENTINE’S DAY CRASH
SANTA ANA – A second-time drunken driver with a prior driving under the influence conviction and a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit was convicted today of murdering a 20-year-old passenger of another car in a high-speed Valentine’s Day crash.Gustavo Adrian Vega, 23, Costa Mesa, was found guilty by a jury of one felony count of murder, one felony count of hit-and-run resulting in death, and one felony count of possession of cocaine. He faces a maximum sentence of 19 years and eight months to life in state prison at his sentencing Sept. 16, 2011, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-42, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana. The time is to be determined.
Early in the morning of Feb. 14, 2010, the defendant, a student at Orange Coast Community College, consumed alcohol and then crashed into a parked car in the parking lot of a Santa Ana taqueria. He knowingly fled the scene of the accident without exchanging identifying information with the driver of the other vehicle.
Shortly before 2:30 a.m., the defendant was driving on Flower Street towards Sunflower Avenue in Costa Mesa in his white 2008 Toyota Tundra. Hao Nguyen, 21, was driving westbound in his 2003 Toyota Corolla on Sunflower Avenue with friend Cara Lee, 20, in the passenger seat.
Vega sped through a red light and hit Nguyen’s Corolla, which was legally travelling through the intersection on a green light. Nguyen was taken to Western Medical Center with minor injuries. The defendant murdered Lee with the impact of the crash. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The defendant fled on foot and hid in a nearby housing complex, where he was found shortly thereafter by Costa Mesa police officers. When contacted by officers, Vega displayed objective signs of intoxication including emitting a strong odor of alcohol from his breath, having bloodshot and watery eyes, and performing poorly on field sobriety tests. He had a blood alcohol content of .17 percent, more than twice the legal limit. The defendant was in possession of a useable amount of cocaine in his pants pocket.
The defendant 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 Dec. 11, 2006 (Case # 06CM10804). Vega signed an acknowledgement in his guilty plea Tahl form 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.
Lee was an only child and pursuing a modeling career while attending college. At the time of her death, Lee was working with children as a recreational youth leader for the City of Newport Beach. She survived a battle against cancer at age 17.
Deputy District Attorney Jason Baez is prosecuting this case.