Guilty plea in official’s death

Times Staff Writer

A 31-year-old woman pleaded guilty Friday to killing a popular Orange city councilman while she was driving under the influence of methamphetamine.

Sara Lyn Ward, a grocery clerk, also pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana. She could receive as much as 10 years in prison when sentenced July 27 for causing the 2006 traffic accident that killed Steven Frank Ambriz.

“We’ll be asking for the maximum sentence and believe that’s what she deserves,” said Farrah Imami, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney’s office. “She needs to spend 10 years in prison in order to give justice to Mr. Ambriz.”

Public defender Arlene Speiser, representing Ward, disagreed. “We hope she has a shot at getting a [shorter] sentence,” Speiser said. “She pled guilty today because she is very remorseful and wants to own up.”

Ambriz, 35, died May 25, 2006, when his Toyota was struck head-on by a pickup Ward was driving. The truck veered across a 12-foot asphalt median onto the wrong side of Santiago Canyon Road near Windes Drive in Orange Park Acres.


Elected to the council in 2002 as one of its youngest members, Ambriz, who left a wife and 4-year-old daughter, was known as a tireless advocate for child safety in cars.

Before becoming a councilman, he spent four years as chief of staff for former Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, now an assemblyman, who was in court for Friday’s hearing.

“He dedicated his life to making sure others knew how to protect themselves,” Spitzer said at Ambriz’s funeral last year. More than 1,000 mourners attended the funeral, many wearing Hawaiian shirts in tribute to Ambriz’s laid-back approach to politics and government.

In 1994 Ward pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 264 days in jail and three years’ probation after getting into a fistfight following a traffic dispute with a woman who died of heart failure during the fight.

She has been at Orange County Jail on $1 million bail since her arrest in Ambriz’s death.