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DUI driver in crash that killed 3 teens in Huntington Beach gets 51 years to life

Orange County D.A. Todd Spitzer with the family of Brooke Hawley, who was killed along with two friends by a DUI driver in Huntington Beach in 2018.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer speaks with the family of Brooke Hawley after the sentencing of Bani Duarte, 29, who killed Hawley and two other teens in a DUI crash in 2018.
(Julia Sclafani / Times Community News)

A woman was sentenced Thursday to 51 years to life in state prison for a DUI crash that killed three Las Vegas teenagers in Huntington Beach in 2018 and seriously injured a fourth.

Bani Duarte, 29, of San Clemente was found guilty Oct. 1 of three counts of second-degree murder and one count of driving under the influence causing great bodily injury. The jury also found a sentencing enhancement allegation of inflicting great bodily injury to be true.

“With your actions, you’ve committed us to our own prison. We are imprisoned; we are in a hell you cannot think of,” Renee Mack, mother of Dylan Mack, one of the victims, told Duarte ion Thursday in Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer’s courtroom in Santa Ana.

The teens were in Huntington Beach for spring break early on March 29, 2018, when the Toyota Corolla they were riding in was struck from behind by Duarte’s Hyundai Sonata while stopped at a red light at Pacific Coast Highway and Magnolia Street. The Toyota was pushed into a pole and caught fire.

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Dylan Mack, 18, and Brooke Hawley and A.J. Rossi, both 17, were killed. A fourth occupant, Alexis Vargas, was severely injured.

On Thursday, Paer heard nearly four hours of victim impact statements from the teens’ friends and families and statements from and on behalf of the defendant before handing down the maximum sentence.

“The victims’ families are suffering, the defendant’s family is suffering and there are no words to summarize this horrific event,” Paer said before the sentencing. “It’s obvious to the court this is a tragedy.”

Paer noted that Duarte had a prior DUI arrest in which she “was taken to jail, she was booked, her car was impounded and her license was suspended.”

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“Hopefully this will send a message to this community that this behavior won’t be tolerated,” the judge said.

Duarte called the collision a “horrible accident that changed many, many lives forever.”

Looking toward the victims’ families, she said: “I am changed and I am remorseful and very regretful of the actions I made. … I wasn’t in the right state of mind mentally and emotionally. I didn’t think further into the consequences. I know no words I say will bring closure to this tragedy. I apologize for this selfish decision.”

At the time of the crash, Duarte had a blood-alcohol level of 0.3%, more than three times the legal limit, police said.

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An onboard computer on Duarte’s car showed that the vehicle was traveling 79 mph when it hit the Corolla on a 45 mph stretch of Pacific Coast Highway.

Sclafani writes for Times Community News.


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