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Driver suspected of causing fatal crash had previous DUI conviction

Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeDrunk DrivingCrimeHomicide

The 21-year-old woman who authorities say was under the influence of alcohol when she drove the wrong way on the 60 Freeway, killing six people, had previously been convicted of drunk driving.

Olivia Carolee Culbreath was 17 when she was convicted of drunk driving in San Bernardino County, Department of Motor Vehicle officials said. State records also show that she was cited for traffic violations at least two other times. The DMV said the restrictions on her license were lifted last week.

The revelations come as authorities tried to piece together how the accident occurred.

About 4:40 a.m. Sunday, witnesses reported seeing Culbreath's red Chevrolet Camaro traveling east on the westbound 60 at about 100 mph until it struck a red Ford Explorer, which then collided with a third vehicle. Several people were ejected from the vehicles; Culbreath and Joel Cortez, the driver of the third vehicle, survived.

Culbreath is hospitalized and has been arrested on suspicion of DUI causing great bodily injury and manslaughter, authorities said.

Cortez, 57, said Monday that the crash occurred during what was a typical Sunday morning for him. He woke up before dawn, got ready to head to his job as a technician in the City of Industry and asked God to protect four things: himself, his children, his job and the road.

He left his home in Ontario, tuned into one of his favorite Spanish-language radio stations and headed west on the 60 for a 20-minute drive. He settled into a lane and trailed a Ford Explorer for about 10 minutes. Suddenly, he saw the red vehicle flying through the air. He tried to swerve.

Something slammed into the passenger side of his car, and his air bag deployed. His vehicle struck the center divider. He looked out and saw something in the road. In the morning darkness it looked like a big bag.

Then he heard a scream: "There are bodies all over."

There was twisted metal, wheels, blood. He stayed in the car and called his children. Paramedics soon arrived and flashed a light in his face. After seeing that he was alive and seemed to be OK, a paramedic asked him to wait a bit. Others were worse off, Cortez was told.

The four family members in the Explorer, who all died, have been identified as Gregorio Mejia-Martinez, 47; Leticia Ibarra, 42; Jessica Jasmine Mejia, 20; and Ester Delgado, 80.

Their family members gathered at a single-story home in Huntington Park on Monday afternoon. Some huddled near a porch and others stared at the ground, wiping away tears. A man who declined to give his name said he and other family members did not want to speak to the media.

Culbreath's sister, Maya, 24, and a friend, Kristin Melissa Young, 21, were killed.

A woman who answered the door at the Culbreath family home in Fontana choked up and said, "I'm just the grandmother, but I've more or less lost two babies."

"I can't answer anymore. I'm sorry," she said, her eyes downcast as she closed the door.

For Cynthia Schroeder, who met Young at International Polytechnic High in Pomona, the loss of the friend who complimented her necklace on the first day of school and introduced her to the music of the Smiths — felt surreal.

"It's right out of a movie," she said. "I prefer to only speak about positive things — that's the way Kristin would want it."

As Cortez reflected on the crash from his living room Monday afternoon, his neck, chest and knees ached and he was nursing a headache with painkillers. But, really, he said he was thinking about his prayer. About what he asks God for every day before he drives to work and again before he drives home each evening.

"He listened to me," Cortez said.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

joseph.serna@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

Times staff writers Matt Stevens and Marisa Gerber contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeDrunk DrivingCrimeHomicide
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