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Driver Charged With Murdering 2 in Crash

TIMES STAFF WRITER

His name is Kelly Dean Eastman. Her name was Kimberly Dawn Ellis. As horribly bad luck would have it, they ended up with more in common than their initials.

Eastman is the suspected drunk driver with a prior DUI conviction who authorities say killed Ellis and her Pepperdine University law school classmate in a head-on collision on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu earlier this week. Two of Ellis’ friends in the car were injured.

On Thursday, Eastman, who suffered minor injuries, was charged with two counts of murder and one count of driving under the influence and causing death. The 37-year-old was ordered held until a Monday arraignment in lieu of $2.1 million bail.

“Everyone here believes that both of these young women are with their Creator,” said Douglas Kmiec, a visiting professor at Pepperdine who taught property law to all four students. “It is the only thing that helps us make sense of the senseless.”

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Ellis, 22, and her regular study group--Jeannine Gregory, 22; Mark Gallagher, 23; and Samantha Dolginer, 22--hunkered down in the library Tuesday night to prepare for the next day’s exam on civil procedure. They had weathered their criminal law test earlier that day.

The friends decided to take a study break with a ride to McDonald’s just before 7 p.m. Ellis drove her car with Gallagher next to her, Gregory in the back seat behind her and Dolginer in the rear on the passenger’s side.

According to the police report, Eastman told authorities that he left his carpenter’s job in Culver City about 3:30 p.m.

He went to a nearby driving range for an hour and then stopped for a dinner that included two martinis, he told police.

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Authorities said Eastman was en route to his Malibu house-sitting job at 7:05 p.m. when a woman called 911 to report that a minivan was weaving and stopping in traffic.

Sheriff’s deputies alerted by the 911 call had almost reached Eastman when they saw the crash: His minivan swerved into the oncoming lane, plowing over the hood of the students’ car and crushing the driver’s side of the vehicle, authorities said.

Gregory, of Walled Lake, Mich., was pronounced dead at the scene. Ellis, of West Covina, died on arrival at UCLA Medical Center.

Gallagher, of San Diego, was treated for bruises and a possible concussion at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance, and Dolginer, of Los Angeles, was in good condition at UCLA.

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“There was nothing left of [Ellis’] car,” said sheriff’s investigator Hugh Wahler. “The roof is on the trunk because it was just peeled back.”

A portable Breathalyzer test at the scene measured Eastman’s blood-alcohol level at 0.14%, well above the legal limit of 0.08%, Wahler said. A blood test later at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center pegged Eastman’s alcohol level at 0.22%, the investigator said.

“He said he hit a bump in the road and steered to correct his vehicle,” Wahler said. “He didn’t really remember.”

Eastman was convicted in Utah in 1992 of driving under the influence.

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Professor Kmiec said Gregory, a confident, popular, aspiring entertainment lawyer, followed her Michigan boyfriend to Southern California. “She was a leader who didn’t campaign for leadership,” Kmiec said. “She just had that as a natural quality.”

Ellis, he said, was wide-eyed and enthusiastic. She often approached him with questions after class but always prefaced them by asking if she was interrupting him or if he had time for her.

In contrast to Gregory, who sat in the back of the room and waited to be called on before delivering a well-prepared answer, Ellis--also a top student--sat in the second row.

“If she understood, you could see her nodding her affirmation as she hurriedly took her notes down,” Kmiec said.

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The professor was just finishing dinner at his Pacific Coast Highway home Tuesday when his doorbell rang. It was his neighbor, covered in blood.

She told him that there had been a horrible accident down the road and that she held the driver’s hand until police arrived.

“She said, ‘I fear these were Pepperdine students,’ ” Kmiec recalled. “Those words echoed in my mind.”


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