Driver gets 7 years for involuntary manslaughter in accident that killed former Miss Tustin – Orange County Register

SANTA ANA — A motorist with an extensive record of speeding tickets pleaded guilty Tuesday and was immediately sentenced to seven years in prison for a fatal accident in Irvine.

Toni Love Valenzuela, 33, pleaded guilty to a felony count of gross negligent manslaughter. A jury on Jan. 9 convicted her of one felony hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury but remained stuck 9-3 on guilt of second-degree murder and the count of gross manslaughter in the vehicle.

During a plea deal, the second-degree murder charge was dismissed.

The defendant was convicted of killing 43-year-old Carmella Vann, a former Miss Tustin, in an accident on July 3, 2018.

Co-defendant Patrick Le, who pleaded guilty to gross negligent manslaughter in March 2021, testified at the trial. Le was sentenced to four years in prison, but he was credited with 1,000 days at the time. Valenzuela has been in custody since November 18, 2019.

Lead Assistant District Attorney Janine Madera, in her opening statement at the trial, described the case as “road rage” or an “ego battle” between the co-defendants.

Valenzuela drove a Hyundai Veloster and Le drove an Acura RL.

Shuttle bus driver Sigfriedo DeHaro noticed the two drivers revved up their engines at a red light on Red Hill and Main Street, Madera said. The jury was shown video from the bus showing the two cars pulling away from the bus.

Moments later, surveillance video from a building picks up the two racers, Madera said. Another driver, Kevin DeHaas, told investigators he was about to change lanes when he noticed one of the cars coming his way, so he jerked the steering wheel back, Madera said.

Le went into oncoming traffic and Valenzuela tried to “squeeze” between two cars, Madera said. Valenzuela was driving about 60 to 63.5 mph in a 50-mph zone, Madera said.

Another building surveillance video shows the accident when Les’s car crashed into the victim’s car and Valenzuela drove on, Madera said.

The crash was so loud that people came out of the building to see what had happened, Madera said.

“MS. Vann was an experienced driver who drove home from work and didn’t do anything wrong,” Madera said.

Le was taken to a nearby hospital and Vann was pronounced dead at the scene, Madera said.

DeHaas took a picture of Valenzuela’s car so police could later locate the suspect by license plate, Madera said.

When questioned by police, “She lies and says she didn’t know there was an accident in the first place,” Madera said.

She claimed she was “taped” in a phone call at the time, Madera said. But phone records show she made a 17-minute call shortly after the collision, Madera said.

Valenzuela has received 11 summonses, including reckless driving, in September 2014 for driving 90 to 100 miles per hour, Madera said. She has received nine speeding tickets, Madera said.

The defendant took three traffic school classes to solve speeding tickets, so she knew the dangers of speeding, Madera said.

Valenzuela’s attorney, June Woo Chung of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, called Le as a witness.

“I assume his side of the story will be the same as he had all along — that he was kind of pushed into oncoming traffic,” Chung said in his opening statement.

Le eventually conceded, “It was all ego, it was my lane,” Chung said.

“He’s fixated on hitting Toni Valenzuela because he was mad that she cut him off,” Chung said.

The two had never met before the collision, Chung said.

Chung admitted his client was dishonest to police during questioning and has a long record of traffic violations.

“Nine speeding tickets, I admit, that’s a lot,” Chung said. “And there is evidence that she lied. This is true. I won’t say that you will like or love Toni Valenzuela… But I ask you to keep an open heart. You’re not here to punish her for her driver’s license or her lies. I am confident that by the end of this case you will find her not guilty of murder or manslaughter by vehicle.” Driver gets 7 years for involuntary manslaughter in accident that killed former Miss Tustin – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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