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Man pleads not guilty to murder in crash that killed teen as she slept

Man pleads not guilty to murder in crash that killed teen as she slept
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies enter a Palmdale apartment complex where an SUV crashed on April 20, killing a 16-year-old girl as she slept. The driver pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to murder and other felony charges. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

A Palmdale man accused of being under the influence when he crashed his SUV into an apartment complex, killing a 16-year-old as she slept, pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges Tuesday.

Roberto Rodriguez, 20, has been charged with murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two other felony charges of driving under the influence and causing injury, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

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If convicted of all counts, prosecutors said, Rodriguez faces a maximum of 15 years to life in prison. He remains in custody on more than $1-million bail pending a Friday hearing.

Prosecutors allege that in the early morning hours of April 20 — Easter Sunday — Rodriguez crashed his Nissan Pathfinder into an apartment complex near Avenue R and 10th Street in Palmdale.

An L.A. County sheriff's deputy driving through the area noticed the SUV embedded in the building, sheriff's officials said at the time of Rodriguez's arrest. Residents had already detained the driver and said there might be someone inside the room.

Deputies pulled at the damaged wall but weren't able to get inside, sheriff's officials said. Firefighters were eventually able to get inside the room, where they found 16-year-old Gizelle Mendoza.

The girl was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities said she was asleep when the crash occurred.

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