A drunken driver who crashed his Ford Mustang into another car at 121 mph on Interstate 15, leading to a second collision that killed two men, was sentenced to 34 years to life in state prison Friday.
Jeffrey Brian Levi, 39, was convicted by a jury in August of second- degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit-and-run and drunken driving counts for causing the deaths of Jesus David Dominguez, 33, and Isaac Felix, 19, Jan. 2, 2018.
Levi rear-ended the victims’ Toyota Corolla about 11:45 p.m. Jan. 2 on northbound I-15 near Miramar Road, then walked away from the crash scene unscathed after his Mustang swerved off the freeway and down an embankment.
The Corolla was left disabled in the fast lane with no lights on, and its three occupants — who weren’t injured in the initial collision — were “sitting ducks” for the crash that followed a short time later, according to Deputy District Attorney Andrew Aguilar.
A Ford Explorer driven by off-duty San Diego police Sgt. Raymond Rowe struck the Corolla, which burst into flames. Dominguez and Felix were trapped in the wreckage and burned to death, according to the prosecutor. Bystanders were able to rescue Giovanna Dominguez — Jesus Dominguez’s sister and Felix’s girlfriend — from the crumpled car, and she sustained broken bones and burns across her body.
The Ford Explorer overturned, coming to rest upside down, and Rowe was treated for minor to moderately serious injuries.
Aguilar said that about three hours after the crash, Levi had a blood- alcohol content of 0.16%, which is twice the legal limit.
Defense attorney Amanda Waddle told jurors that Levi was a scapegoat, with Rowe responsible for the crash due to negligent driving. According to Waddle, Rowe was speeding, failed to wear his prescription glasses and was looking in his rearview mirror at the time of impact.
At Friday morning’s sentencing, Levi told San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joan P. Weber that he relapsed on the night of the crash following a stint in rehab regarding his alcoholism.
Trial testimony indicated that Levi had some drinks at dinner with a friend, then drank more on his own at a bar before getting behind the wheel.
“Unfortunately, relapse is a part of recovery for many people, myself included. That’s what happened this night and there were choices I would have never made otherwise,” Levi said. “I think of Jesus, Isaac, Giovanna and their friends and family every day. I wish and pray that I could do or say something to change what’s happened, but I can’t and I have to live with that forever.”
Levi asked Weber to impose some of his sentences concurrently so that he could someday “be a productive member of society and hopefully help others to avoid making the same mistakes I have made.”
Aguilar read a statement to the court from Felix’s sister, Denise, in which she says the loss of her brother left an “incomparable” impact on their family, which was also dealing with the recent loss of Felix’s father.
She wrote that Felix was their mother’s biggest supporter in the wake of their father’s death and now the family was suffering again due to the actions of “an irresponsible person.”
She chided Levi for driving drunk and for fleeing the scene after the crash.
“Maybe things would be different for all of us if he would have stopped and help,” she wrote.
Weber imposed consecutive 15-year-to-life sentences for the two murder counts and four years for the hit-and-run count, with sentences stayed on the other charges.
The judge also reproached Levi for driving under the influence and failing to stop and assist the crash victims, “Instead of doing what many citizens did, some extraordinary efforts by members of this community to help get Giovanna out of that burning vehicle.”
In addition to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and the other felonies, Levi was charged with murder due to a 2007 misdemeanor DUI conviction.
Both Rowe and Levi, along with the city of San Diego, are defendants in a civil suit filed by the victims’ families. The civil case has been delayed pending the outcome of Levi’s criminal trial. The next hearing in the civil case is a Nov. 22 status conference.
Updated at 10:55 a.m. Nov. 1. 2019
–City News Service