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California

Driver who hit man and went a mile with body in car is guilty of second-degree murder

Esteysi Sanchez cries during closing arguments in her trial at the Vista Courthouse. She is accused of killing a man in a hit and run drunk driving incident. At left is Tanya Weston, one of her lawy
Esteysi “Stacy” Sanchez, right, cries during closing arguments in her trial in San Diego. She faces 15 years to life in prison for killing a homeless man in Oceanside in 2016 when driving drunk.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A woman who authorities said was driving drunk when her car swerved onto a curb and struck a homeless man — sending him through her car’s windshield and killing him instantly — was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder.

Esteysi “Stacy” Sanchez, 31, also was found guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and hit and run in the June 27, 2016, crash that killed Jack Ray Tenhulzen. She faces a prison sentence of at least 15 years to life when she is sentenced May 31.

A jury deliberated for about a day before it reached the verdicts.

That the defendant was charged with murder was not typical. Most deadly drunken-driving crashes are charged as manslaughter, unless the defendant has a prior drunken driving conviction — which Sanchez did not.

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Bruce argued to the jury that Sanchez’s case rose to the level of second-degree murder because friends with her that night told her not to drive. He said she had shown a conscious disregard for life.

On Friday, the prosecutor said he was pleased with the verdict.

“I think this sends a message that if you are warned not to drink and drive, and you drink and drive anyway, you may be found guilty of murder,” he said.

Sanchez, who authorities suspect is an immigrant in the country illegally, has been jailed since the day of the crash.

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Authorities said Sanchez was driving east on Mission Avenue in Oceanside about 6:15 a.m. when her car struck and killed 69-year-old Tenhulzen on a sidewalk.

The impact knocked him out of his pants and shoes, and thrust his body through the car’s front windshield into the passenger seat. The crash killed him instantly, and severed one of his legs near the foot.

With the dead body next to her, Sanchez drove more than a mile, parked the car around the block from her house, then walked home.

Defense attorney Herb Weston had argued that his client — who had gone clubbing — had fallen asleep for a second as she made the roughly two-mile drive home from a motel where she had been at an after-party with friends.

She failed to negotiate a small bend in the road and drove on sidewalk for about 100 feet, striking the victim.

Weston argued that Sanchez awoke on impact and “freaked out” when she saw shattered glass, blood and a body in the seat next to her.

teri.figueroa@sduniontribune.com

Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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