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Teen Girl Gets 12 Years in Drunk-Driving Deaths

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 17-year-old San Marcos girl, convicted as an adult for killing two women pedestrians in Vista last year while driving drunk and without a driver’s license, was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in the state penal system.

But, because of her age, she will spend her time at the California Youth Authority facility near Chino.

The prosecutor of the case and a representative for Mothers Against Drunk Driving said they had never before heard of someone so young sentenced so severely for such a crime.

The girl, Angelina Jessie Lopez, was 16 years old when, on the night of June 30, 1990, the Mustang convertible she was driving plowed into two sisters who were walking along East Los Angeles Street in Vista, on their way to the market at about 9:30 to buy some milk.

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Cecilia Saucedo, 32, was flung 75 feet through the air and was killed instantly. Her sister, Bertha Saucedo, 30, was catapulted against a garage door and died two weeks later. Between the two, they had five children who have since been put in the care of their maternal grandparents in Mexico.

Lopez’s car ended up shearing a utility pole. None of the four passengers in the car was wearing a seat belt. The most severely injured, 20-year-old Tina Landers, suffered a skull fracture and severe internal injuries and is described by the San Diego County Probation Department as now being legally blind and suffering from brain damage.

Lopez, who had failed her driver’s license test twice, including once for running a red light--got her father’s car after telling him she had her license, she told the probation department.

On the night of the crash, she left a party in Vista with four other friends to pick up yet another, but admitted later to authorities that she had been drinking so heavily that she had passed out at the party and didn’t remember being behind the steering wheel.

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Authorities said later that her blood alcohol content probably reached 0.21%--more than twice the legal amount.

Last March, Lopez was convicted by a Vista jury of two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and causing multiple injuries.

Superior Court Judge Vincent P. DiFiglia on Tuesday rejected probation out of hand for the teen-ager, saying she showed no ability to resist peer pressure to drink.

“This very young slip of a girl has a history of alcohol since age 12, and crystal methamphetamine and marijuana since 13,” said DiFiglia, who matter-of-factly stated his sentencing options without sermonizing on drunk driving.

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At one point he remarked about the probation department’s findings of her upbringing in a dysfunctional family. “You get the feeling, in reading some of the reports, that she was the victim in this case. She wasn’t,” he said firmly.

The most severe sentencing option before him was to send Lopez, who was tried as an adult because of the enormity of the crime, directly to state prison. But even the district attorney’s office didn’t seek that.

Instead, Lopez was sentenced to 12 years in the state penal system with the stipulation that she be housed at the California Youth Authority. Depending on her behavior there, she can be released in as soon as six years, authorities say. Otherwise, she may end up in state prison after she turns 25.

The other sentencing option was to place her as a juvenile in the CYA, where she could be released within months at the discretion of the CYA itself, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Fraser.

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Lopez’ defense attorney, William Christoph, asked that she be placed on a year’s probation and then placed for 18 months at Victory Outreach, a Christian-based residential rehabilitation program.

He noted that, to Lopez’ credit, she volunteered for a 20-minute segment in a videotape warning other teen-agers of the dangers of drinking and driving.

“While she was tried as an adult, she was at the time (of the crash) a very immature 16-year-old,” Christoph said in asking for leniency. “She was just a little girl.”

But Fraser scoffed at that suggestion, noting that, since the incident, she got pregnant and gave birth in July to a daughter. “She believes she’s old enough to be a parent, yet she’s still trying to hide behind her youth,” Fraser told the judge.

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Neither Lopez’s mother, Lena Hadden, nor relatives of the victims asked to make comments to the judge at Tuesday’s sentencing. Afterward, Hadden declined comment to reporters and left the courthouse in tears, holding Lopez’s newborn.

The diminutive Lopez--her hair in a French braid and only sitting as tall as her attorney’s shoulders--was also silent during the sentencing. In a letter she previously wrote the court, Lopez said:

“I am ready to accept whatever my punishment is. I’m just scared of how long that will be. I honestly never meant to hurt anybody.”


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