The driver who killed three teenage girls in a hit-and-run on Halloween last year pleaded guilty Friday to manslaughter and other charges.
Jaquinn Bell, 32, who hit the three 13-year-olds when they were trick-or-treating in Santa Ana then fled, faces a maximum prison sentence of nearly 14 years. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 21.
The tragedy of the killings, and subsequent revelations that Bell had committed a previous hit-and-run, garnered headlines and left the girls’ immigrant neighborhood reeling.
About 6:45 p.m. Oct. 31, twin sisters Lexia and Lexandra Perez and their friend Andrea Gonzales were crossing Fairhaven Avenue at Old Grand Street when Bell slammed into the trio. Police concluded Bell never braked before hitting the girls. He sped off, abandoning his Honda SUV in a nearby parking lot.
In the car with Bell were his two teenage children, authorities said.
Bell should not have been driving. Two months earlier, police said, he had been convicted of another hit-and-run and had his license suspended. In that incident, Bell was drunk and again had his children in the car.
Too much time had passed before investigators identified and arrested Bell to determine whether he was intoxicated when he hit the girls.
Bell's criminal record dates to 2009, when he was placed on probation after pleading guilty in a domestic violence case. Since then, according to court records, he has violated probation seven times and has usually been punished with short jail sentences and orders to attend substance abuse and child endangerment treatment programs.
At the time of killings, Bell had faced a 17-year sentence, but a state Supreme Court decision last month changed sentencing rules in manslaughter cases and reduced the number of years Bell might serve, according to a statement released by Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.
Family members of the girls could not be reached for comment.