A San Diego woman who was texting and chatting on her cell phone just before her Toyota Prius slammed into the back of an idling car on an Orange County freeway, killing the 23-year-old driver, was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.
Jorene Ypano Nicolas tearfully apologized to the victim’s family.
“The thought of you not being with your daughter is absolutely killing me every day,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart, from the bottom of my pain, I’m sorry you can’t physically be with your daughter anymore.”
Nicolas claimed she wanted to “check” on the victim and try to revive her with CPR, but was told to stand back because of the risk of injury to the victim’s spine — an account that Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said was contradicted by the testimony of several witnesses.
“I have every day since the accident prayed for her soul and hope she’s resting in peace,” Nicolas said. “I am deeply sorry for what has happened and I’ve always felt this way, despite what the media portrayed me as.”
The defendant said she would gladly trade places with Deanna Mauer, who was a star softball player, if she could.
But Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg wasn’t swayed by the apology. He imposed the maximum term under the law on the 32-year-old defendant, saying that her lack of remorse was “deafening.”
The judge said distracted driving that results in a fatality is worse than driving under the influence because there’s no impairment involved. The defendant made a choice to text while driving, he said.
Bromberg said the fact that Nicolas — whose first trial ended with a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt on the gross vehicular manslaughter charge on which she was ultimately convicted — had no prior criminal history or even traffic tickets was far outweighed by her conduct that led to the fatal crash.
In March, the defendant told Bromberg she wanted to accept a plea bargain offer under which she would have faced a year in jail, 500 hours of community service and five years of probation, but she backed out and hired a new attorney.
Bromberg said that when he offered the plea deal, he wasn’t aware of the new evidence presented at the second trial that showed Nicolas sent 13 text messages in the 15 minutes before the crash. He said that had he known, he would not have offered the same plea deal.
Mauer’s mother said she stopped feeling sorry for the defendant after Nicolas told reporters — at the end of her first trial — that the accident was not her fault.
“I came here every day to fight for my daughter because you kept blaming her” for causing the crash, she said.
Referring to the defendant’s tearful goodbye to her own daughter when she was taken into custody following the verdict, Dawn Mauer said, “You killed my daughter. I didn’t get to say goodbye to her and hug her… You not only killed my daughter, but you killed me and took my life. She was the other half of myself.”
Nicolas sent 13 text messages in the 15 minutes before the April 27, 2011, crash on the San Diego (405) Freeway in Westminster and answered a phone call just before the impact, according to Walker.
An Event Data Recorder — known informally as a “black box” — in Nicolas’ 2006 Prius indicated she was driving 85 mph at the time of the 10:58 a.m. collision, the prosecutor said.
From 10:42 a.m. until 10:56 a.m., there’s a record of the defendant sending 13 text messages. At 10:57 a.m., records indicate she took a call, according to Walker.
“She’s doing this actively, not paying attention, driving 20 miles per hour over the limit,” Walker said, telling jurors that northbound traffic ahead had come to a halt due to another collision.
Another motorist, who was stopped in traffic in his Porsche, looked up and noticed Mauer’s Hyundai behind him, also idling, for about 30 seconds, Walker said. He recognized the driver because he saw her earlier in traffic and thought she was “cute,” the prosecutor said.
“Then he heard an explosion,” Walker said. “Then he felt an impact to his vehicle that pinged him like a pinball.”
Jack Jeffries told investigators that Nicolas did not try to help Mauer and instead hobbled back to her car to retrieve her phone and make calls, Walker said.
Defense attorney Joe Dane questioned the accuracy of the computer data from the car and suggested Mauer may have caused the crash.
Nicolas herself previously claimed that Mauer was responsible for the crash.
“She veered into my lane, so I avoided her and I hit the center divider,” Nicolas told reporters last year after her first trial. “I tried to avoid her and her car spun out and hit the center divider.”
— City News Service
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