Videotape From Car That Killed Mother Shown at Hearing

Times Staff Writer

Her two young children safely behind her, the woman is standing with fists clenched and at her sides. The mother appears defiant as she stares down the oncoming Nissan 200 SX that is whizzing down the Newport Beach alley, a video camera aimed out its front window.

And then, the videotape shows a jumbled blur of images as the car veers toward the right side of the alley, toward the woman. A brick wall appears out of nowhere. And the screen goes blank.

Moments later, the tape picks up again with a helter-skelter of images and sounds. The sights are largely indistinguishable as the camera bounces about wildly. But the sounds are chillingly clear.


Screams pierce the air. Ambulance and police sirens blare. Young voices call out: “Where’s my mom? . . . Where’s my mom?”

And amid the chaos on the afternoon of Sept. 1 is heard a pair of expletives that prosecutors claim Danny David Ornelas uttered in reference to the woman that he had just hit with a car.

Hours later, 37-year-old Debbie Killelea, a mother of three who had been trying to get speed bumps installed in her Balboa Peninsula neighborhood, was dead. And Ornelas, 19, of Huntington Park was in jail, arrested on suspicion of murder in a fatal crash that ironically was filmed by a buddy of his who was riding in the car.

Prosecutors played the extraordinary videotape Wednesday at Ornelas’ preliminary hearing on a murder charge. Many of Debbie Killelea’s friends and family members who attended the hearing--her husband and three children did not--sobbed as they watched the crash and the final seconds leading up to it.

Earlier in the hearing in Municipal Court in Newport Beach, a witness estimated that the car Ornelas was driving was traveling in excess of 50 m.p.h. down the alley and that the impact sent Killelea soaring as high as the two-story homes in the neighborhood.

Ornelas, wearing an Orange County Jail jumpsuit, sat stone-faced and jotted down a few notes at the defendant’s table after the playing of the tape. His friends and family gazed straight ahead as they sat a few feet across a courtroom aisle that divided them from Killelea’s friends and relatives.

“There’s still a lot of pain all around,” said Dennis Killelea, the victim’s brother-in-law. “We’re here in the interest of my brother and his family. I’m not necessarily vindictive; I just want to see that justice is served.”

Prosecutors charge that Ornelas--who had been drinking with friends on the beach and had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal standard for intoxication--intentionally hit Killelea with the car.

They point to testimony from witnesses and to the tape itself as allegedly showing that the defendant swerved the car at the last minute into the path of Killelea, who was taking a walk with two of her children in their neighborhood.

“I think the tape speaks for itself,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard M. King told reporters after the hearing. “It’s an incredible piece of evidence. It’s a horrible thing to listen to.”

In a recent interview with The Times at the jail, Ornelas denied that he hit Killelea on purpose but acknowledged that he had been drinking beer and strong rum with friends on the beach before getting into the car.

The vehicle belonged to a friend, 20-year-old George Herrera of Hacienda Heights. Herrera testified Wednesday at the preliminary hearing that he, Ornelas and a third friend had gone to Newport Beach for the day and were drinking from 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor and a jug of rum. Herrera said the three got the idea to videotape scenes on the beach. Herrera waited at the beach and gave Ornelas the keys to get a video camera from the car and bring it back, he said.

Herrera said that when he gave Ornelas the keys, he did not expect his friend to drive his car, only to bring the camera back. “I trusted him,” Herrera testified.

The third friend, 18-year-old John Lozano, testified that he accompanied Ornelas to get the camera. To Lozano’s surprise, he testified, Ornelas said he was going to move the car. Lozano told his friend he was going back to the beach, but Ornelas told him to “get in the car,” Lozano testified.

As the two drove along the streets of Newport Beach, Lozano testified that he held the video camera to his eye and pointed it out the window. “I thought (the camera) was off. . . . I was just playing around with it.”

The videotape shows the car traveling down the alley for a few seconds before Killelea comes into view, facing the car as it cruises down the two-lane strip.

Lozano testified that as the car traveled down the alley he spotted a blur of color that he later realized was Killelea as she stood watching the car. As they approached the woman, he testified, Ornelas seemed to “lose control” of the car and they veered at about a 30-degree angle toward a brick wall at the side of the alley.

“It was just like the car went right. But it didn’t drastically change direction, it just went off into the wall,” Lozano said.

But a witness, 20-year-old Timothy Jessup of Newport Beach, testified at the hearing that as he was walking by the East Ocean Boulevard alley, the car swerved quickly and sharply after Killelea put her hands firmly on her hips, in a gesture apparently meant to show disapproval of the car’s speed.

Jessup estimated the car’s speed at more than 50 m.p.h. as it cruised down the alley before the crash. He said the driver, whom he identified as Ornelas, had “a smile on his face . . . having a good time.”

Jessup said Killelea took a step out toward the center of the alley, and then “the car made a swerve toward her” at a constant speed.

“I could not understand why the car would swerve toward her,” Jessup said.

It appeared that Killelea pushed her children out of the path of the oncoming car but did not have time to avoid being hit herself, he said. “She tried to make a quick move away from the car, but she didn’t really have time to do anything,” Jessup testified.

Gale King, a neighbor of Killelea’s who lives at the site of the wreck, testified that she rushed out of her house after hearing a crash. King said that she first saw the bloodied body a few feet from her garage and then saw a young man whom she tentatively identified as Ornelas climbing out of the wrecked car.

Gale King said the man appeared to swear at the victim angrily. “He was enraged. He was mad,” she said.

According to Newport Beach police, Ornelas ran away immediately after the crash and was captured a short time later by a police officer.

The preliminary hearing is to continue today. If the judge finds there is sufficient evidence, he can bind Ornelas over to Superior Court to stand trial on the murder charge.