Courts & Law

Drunk driver gets 51 to life for deaths

A SENTENCE of 51 years to life was handed down Thursday to a San Clemente woman convicted in the 2018 drunk driving killing of three teenagers (Shutterstock).

A judge Thursday sentenced a San Clemente woman to 51 years to life in prison for murdering three Las Vegas teenagers and injuring a fourth while driving under the influence in a traffic accident in Huntington Beach.

Bani Marcela Duarte, 29, of San Clemente, was convicted on Oct. 1, 2019 of three felony counts of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, and a sentencing enhancement of great bodily injury. Duarte was driving with a blood alcohol level of .30 at the time of the collision.

Seventeen-year-old Brooke Hawley, 18-year-old Dylan Mack, and 17-year-old Albert “A.J.” Rossi were pronounced dead at the scene. John Doe survived the collision, suffering great bodily injury including burns and a concussion.  Duarte was arrested at the scene by the Huntington Beach Police Department.

During emotional victim impact statements delivered in court today, family members told the court how the loss of the three teenagers had destroyed their lives.

“The impact will not be over for me until the day I take my last breath,” said Rhonda Hawley, Brooke Hawley’s mother.

“Ms. Duarte you will be able to see your children through glass in jail,” Albert J. Rossi, father of Albert Rossi, said.  “If I want to see my son I have to go to a cemetery. That’s thanks to you Ms. Duarte.

“I would give anything to hear his laugh and feel his hugs again,” said Renee Mack, the mother of Dylan Mack. “I keep waiting for him to walk through our door again – and he never will.”

In the early morning hours of March 29, 2018, Duarte was driving under the influence on Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.

At approximately 1 a.m., four Las Vegas high school students who were celebrating their spring break in Orange County were stopped in a vehicle at a red light on Pacific Coast Highway and Magnolia.

Duarte failed to stop at the red light and rear-ended the victims’ vehicle at a high rate of speed, causing an impact that pushed the car through the intersection and forced it into a pole, where it stopped and burst into flames.

“There was no reason for these three young people to have lost their lives to a repeat drunk driver.  I have prosecuted these cases myself and they are devastating to the families, the community, to the law enforcement officers who investigate these cases and to our own prosecutors who fight for justice,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.  “The unnecessary loss of life is why I, as a member of the state Assembly, authored the Steve Ambriz Act to require every Californian who wants a driver’s license to sign a form that states he or she has been advised that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, and if they do so anyway and someone is killed, they can be charged with murder. This was not an accident. It was a choice – and it was a deadly one.”

Duarte had previously been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2016 and had lost her license for a year.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Daniel Feldman prosecuted the case.

 

 

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