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San Diego : Driver Pleads No Contest in 3 Fatalities

The driver of a speeding car that killed three children at Camp Pendleton pleaded no contest Monday to three counts of vehicular manslaughter.

Charles M. Smith, 20, entered the plea because it cannot be used against him in a civil suit should a wrongful-death suit be filed, his attorney, John Martin, told U.S. Magistrate Edward Infante.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Burns said Smith was driving at 42 m.p.h. May 2 on a Camp Pendleton road when he struck the children and the mother of two of the youngsters. The speed limit on the road is 25 m.p.h. Smith hit two of the children while they were walking in a bicycle lane, Burns said.

Killed were Charmane Ostergaard, 6; her 4-year-old brother, Jeremiah, and Annabell Reyes, 6. Deborah Ostergaard, 24, suffered a broken leg and multiple injuries.

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Infante set sentencing for Nov. 7. Burns said the maximum sentence for the misdemeanor offenses is three years in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Burns also said in court that no mechanical failure was discovered in Smith’s car. He said autopsies showed the victims suffered “massive hemorrhages due to blunt force trauma.”

After Burns finished reading the facts of the case, the magistrate asked Smith, “Do you wish to contest that statement?” Smith said no.

Infante found that Smith’s violations were not from gross negligence. Burns said later that gross negligence could not be proved because there was no evidence of drinking or drug use by Smith.

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Smith, a student at Miracosta College, lived on the Marine Corps base with his mother and stepfather, who is stationed there. His parents watched the proceedings in court. The parents of the children were also stationed at Camp Pendleton.

Smith remains free on $10,000 bond.


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