Girl’s Tragedy, Crash Torment O.C. Doctor
Late at night, when he can no longer block her image from his mind, Dr. Ronald J. Allen is haunted by the face of an 11-year-old girl he has never met, but whose life he has forever scarred.
In his first interview since the July 11 accident, the Laguna Beach physician said Friday at the Orange County Men’s Central Jail that he is tortured by the knowledge that he killed a Mission Viejo couple and critically injured their daughter, Karie Minzey, while driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol on a clear, quiet evening July 11.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry,” the 31-year-old internist said, his eyes filling with tears and his voice quavering. “I do wonder how I’m going to be able to live with myself. I’m despairing.”
Allen faces two second-degree murder charges and the possibility of life in prison for the deaths of Mark and Noreen Minzey, and lesser charges for severely injuring the couple’s daughter, Karie, who sustained severe head injuries but is slowly recovering. Two other children, friends of the family, were in the car and suffered minor injuries.
Karie’s 15-year-old sister, Shelby, was not in the car, but was also orphaned when the couple was killed.
“I saw her picture in the paper and I just can’t forget her face,” said Allen, who said he reads nearly every waking moment to prevent Karie’s face from seeping into his thoughts. “If I were that family, I would be so angry at me. What I did was so totally inexcusable.”
“It’s just not fair,” Allen continued, echoing the sentiments of the Minzey family who, in their grief, have been left wondering why authorities were unable to stop Allen before he killed someone.
Despite repeated traffic stops for drunk driving, moving violations and an alcohol-related traffic crash, Allen dodged an outstanding arrest warrant stemming from an April, 1992, drunk-driving accident and continued to abuse drugs and alcohol before taking the wheel, he admitted Friday.
The Minzeys were killed when Allen allegedly swerved and hit their car head-on as they were driving south on Santiago Canyon Road outside the city of Orange.
Russ Little of Mission Viejo, who coached Karie in softball, said Allen’s remorse comes too late for his victims. Karie on Thursday underwent grueling reconstructive surgery on her face and limbs that lasted 17 hours.
“I would expect that anyone who did what he did should be remorseful, but all of this could have been avoided,” Little said. “There isn’t enough remorse to go around to fix what he did. He killed a lot of dreams.”
Allen said he went for a drive under the influence of Valium and alcohol that evening, hoping that the mixture of drugs and alcohol would shut out the pain of his father’s death hours earlier.
Allen believes he crashed head-on into the Minzey family’s car as he nodded off behind the wheel.
“I just don’t remember anything from that night, except wanting to get away,” Allen said.
Earlier the day of the fatal crash, Allen’s father--who was also his closest friend--died, Allen said. Allen, who said he owed his father about $300,000 and had recently argued with him over the debt and other family matters, blamed himself for his father’s death. Allen’s medical practice was also failing, he said, and he faced additional debts of about $150,000, he said.
Allen also said he could no longer fight off feelings of helplessness as he watched the deadly AIDS virus slowly kill off his patients, including many who had become his friends.
“When you see people your own age dying, it’s very difficult,” he said. “You know that every patient with AIDS will eventually die on you.”
Allen said he learned just one week ago that the Minzeys had died. He earlier believed he had been in custody for critically injuring several people.
“I think my attorney and everyone thought I would just crack up if they told me,” Allen said, adding that he remains on a suicide watch and has repeatedly tried to kill himself in jail by suffocating himself and slashing his own wrists.
Deputy Public Defender Michael Giannini, who was assigned to the case several days after the accident, recalled that his client seemed shocked to learn the Minzeys were dead. “I think friends and other people he had talked to earlier tried to gloss over the details,” Giannini said.
The case has gained widespread attention in part because of revelations that Allen had been repeatedly stopped and warned about drunk driving.
Police stopped Allen on June 1 for alleged public drunkenness and involvement in a hit-and-run accident. Authorities stopped him for speeding just a few hours before the fatal accident. An arrest warrant was issued against him May 13, 1992, for failing to appear in court on a driving-under-the-influence charge the month before.
While Allen said he takes responsibility for the deadly crash, he believes it might have been prevented had friends and authorities stepped in to help.
“I can say the police should have stopped me. I can say a psychiatrist didn’t intervene. I can say my dad didn’t do enough to help me. But in the end, I have to blame it on myself. I did it. I killed two people in that accident and injured . . . a girl,” Allen said.
State medical officials have also acknowledged they did not act quickly enough after receiving notice that Allen’s medical privileges were stripped by South Coast Medical Center--where he was taken after a July 1 alcohol-related crash in Laguna Beach.
Allen said Friday that he was suicidal at that time and had taken self-prescribed pills to stop his heart. Laguna Beach police said Allen begged for a gun so he could kill himself, and claimed he was distraught over his wife’s death. He is not married.
“I do remember telling them I wanted to die,” Allen said Friday.
Allen said Friday he had also been taking self-prescribed Valium, to help fight his looming depression, which could seriously impair his driving.
“I needed a way to just forget it all,” Allen said simply.
Allen said Friday that both old and fresh injection marks discovered on his body after he was arrested are from using steroids as part of a fitness kick--not narcotics.
“I’ve never used drugs” aside from dabbling in marijuana in college, Allen said. But according to a search warrant affidavit filed Friday in Orange County Municipal Court, an officer at the scene of the fatal accident suspected that Allen was under the influence of a depressant drug and marijuana.
Prosecutors have taken the rare step of seeking second-degree murder charges against Allen, under the theory that, as a physician, Allen knew better than most people the hazards of drunk driving. The murder charges each carry a penalty of 15 years to life in prison.
Allen said he is prepared for his fate.
“I know I’m going to be spending a long time in prison over this, and I can’t argue with that,” Allen said, expressing frustration that phrases like “I’m sorry” and wishing for a second chance can do nothing to change what has happened.
Now facing the possibility of a life prison term, losing his license to practice medicine and still grappling with the death of his father, Allen said he spends all his waking hours trying not to recall the young girl he orphaned.
Allen said he does not believe he could ever look Karie in the face, even if he is put on trial and she must testify.
“If I had to see that little girl, I think I would lose it,” Allen said. “I had my father for 31 years of my life and now I’m responsible for taking away a father from a girl who only knew hers for 12 years.”