Police said Thursday that they plan to seek homicide charges today against 18-year-old Oscar Rodriguez, the Buena Park driver of a stolen car that crashed into another vehicle during a police chase, killing two sisters in the second car as well as one of his own passengers.
The brief pursuit early Tuesday ended tragically when Rodriguez ran a red light in Anaheim and broadsided a car at 80 mph, killing Lizett Quinonez, 22, and her sister Claudia, 16, on impact.
One of Rodriguez's two passengers--16-year-old Abraham Camarena of Cerritos--died of his injuries later that day. "We're seeking three counts of homicide and maybe other charges," Anaheim Police Lt. John Haradon said.
The Orange County district attorney's office will make the final decision on which charges to seek.
Rodriguez, who was arrested at the scene of the crash, is expected to be arraigned Monday in North Municipal Court in Fullerton, Haradon said.
Lizett Quinonez, a nursing aide, was three months' pregnant and engaged. Claudia Quinonez was visiting from Guadalajara, Mexico, where the girls' parents and nine surviving siblings live.
The Christmas Eve accident devastated members of the Quinonez family, who were planning to fly the sisters' bodies to Mexico today for burial. There was a Thursday afternoon visitation and recitation of the rosary at a Pierce Bros. mortuary in Anaheim.
When a cousin learned that police plan to seek homicide charges against the driver rather than a lesser vehicular manslaughter count, he said, "Good."
The latest crash raises the toll to eight people killed in the wake of police pursuits in Orange County in the last year.
Last New Year's Eve, boxer Ernie Magdaleno was killed when a suspect fleeing Fountain Valley police crashed into his car at 85 mph. Ironically, one of Lizett and Claudia Quinonez's brothers also is a boxer and knew Magdaleno, a family friend said.
Tuesday's incident began about 2:15 a.m. when a Cypress police officer stopped the car Rodriguez was driving because it was traveling erratically. When the officer turned on his lights, Rodriguez first hesitated, then yielded near Orange Avenue and Valley View Street, police said.
When the officer got out of the car, however, Rodriguez sped off, prompting the pursuit. A few seconds into the chase, one of the passengers tossed a loaded handgun from the window, police said.
The chase covered only three-quarters of a mile and lasted less than a minute before the car crashed into the vehicle carrying the Quinonez sisters. Cypress police are reviewing the officer's actions to see whether he complied with department policies.
Anaheim investigators defended the officer, saying the chase was so brief that he had no chance to decide whether to drop back. "By the time it was over, the officer was just getting buckled in," Haradon said.
If the chase had continued, the officer would have determined whether to pull back based on the nature of the offense, density of traffic and other factors, Haradon said.
Meanwhile, an investigation is continuing by the Anaheim and Cypress police departments into what the trio in the fleeing car was doing or planning to do before the pursuit.
Rodriguez, Camarena and an unidentified 16-year-old girl who remains hospitalized were traveling in a stolen car and had a loaded gun, police noted. But whether they had committed any other crimes remains unclear, Haradon said.
"We're interviewing people to see what they might have been up to before or what they might have been planning after," he said.
Police had earlier believed that Camarena was 14 years old, but coroner's investigators said Thursday that he was 16.