California teen who livestreamed deadly crash pleads not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter
A California teen accused of driving drunk as she livestreamed a crash that killed her younger sister pleaded not guilty Wednesday to half a dozen felony criminal offenses, including gross vehicular manslaughter.
Along with a felony manslaughter while intoxicated charge, Obdulia Sanchez, 18, is facing another count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, according to the Merced County district attorney’s office.
She is also charged with two counts of driving under the influence resulting in injury and two additional counts of driving with a 0.08% blood alcohol content causing injury, the district attorney’s office said.
“The behavior demonstrated both prior to and after the incident, as documented by the defendant’s own recording, is disturbing and shocking,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Harold Nutt said in a statement. “The Merced County district attorney’s office will do everything in its power to see that justice is done in this matter.”
Sanchez appeared on video for her arraignment. Speaking on Sanchez’s behalf, her public defender, Ramnik Samrao, pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Outside the courtroom, Samrao told reporters Sanchez “feels absolutely terrible.”
He said although Sanchez admitted to killing her sister in the live video, it is unclear whether a crime was committed.
“We don’t know that she was drunk, that’s the allegation,” he said.
After the hearing, Nutt said Sanchez, whose blood alcohol content was 0.10%, was not paying attention while driving. She was driving erratically and not holding the wheel, he said.
Nutt said the video “reflects some depravity and some stupidity.”
If Sanchez is convicted, she faces up to 13 years and eight months in prison, according to the district attorney’s office. She is being held in lieu of $560,000 bail.
The case received international attention after she recorded the moments before and after the crash on Instagram Live on Friday.
The Stockton resident filmed herself behind the wheel of a 2003 Buick as her 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline Sanchez, and a second 14-year-old girl sat in the back seat.
The alarming video showed when Sanchez lost control of her vehicle and crashed.
Moments later, she showed the body of her sister and says: “I … killed my sister, OK. I know I am going to jail for life, all right?” Sanchez said. “This is the last thing that I wanted to happen, OK?”
The California Highway Patrol said Sanchez was driving north of Los Banos when she swerved off the road and over-corrected her turn. She then veered across the road and crashed into a wire fence and her car rolled into a field.
The two girls in the rear seat, who were not wearing seat belts, were ejected from the vehicle, the CHP said.
Sanchez, who was arrested after the crash, was previously convicted of reckless driving, said Jessica Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The offense occurred in 2013 when Sanchez was 14 and driving without a license, Gonzalez said. The conviction resulted in two “negligent operator” points on her driving record, she said.
Sanchez was driving with a valid California license at the time of the fatal crash.
Manuela Seja, the surviving passenger, suffered major trauma to her right leg, authorities said. The girl told KFSN-TV that she and Jacqueline Sanchez were dating. That day, Obdulia Sanchez and Jacqueline Sanchez had driven from Stockton and picked her up at her home in Fresno.
Manuela told KSEE24-TV that she is not mad and doesn’t blame anybody for the crash.
“It’s all affected by social media, and that’s what life is now and it’s going to advance more and more. That’s what it’s all going to be about,” she said.
Mary Hernandez was one of the first people to spot the Instagram Live video, which can be shared for up to 24 hours before it disappears. The 25-year-old Stockton resident told the Los Angeles Times that she quickly recorded the video, saved it and shared it on Facebook before it vanished.
“It was just so wild,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that was on her social media.”
Moments before the crash, Sanchez had recorded another short video taken while she was driving on city streets with her sister, said Hernandez, who saved a copy of that video as well. The video showed Sanchez’s car coming perilously close to hitting a minivan that turned left in front of her. As music played, her sister, who was in the front passenger’s seat, could be heard yelling and moving her hands dramatically.
This video was record Friday sometime before the fatal crash, Mary Hernandez said. It shows Obdulia Sanchez driving with her sister and nearly hitting a minivan.
Days after the crash, the siblings’ father, Nicandro Sanchez, told KFSN-TV that his eldest daughter was confused and distraught.
“It was an accident. It happened that way. Who knows why?” he told the television news station.
The sisters’ cousin, Francisco Sanchez, said the video was “an eye-opener.”
“It’s disturbing to see those images,” the 35-year-old Stockton resident said.
He said Obdulia Sanchez was “always out and about.”
“She was kind of disconnected,” the sisters’ cousin said.
Obdulia Sanchez is the oldest of four siblings, and Jacqueline was a middle child. Jacqueline was a quiet teenager and “played a big-sister role in the family,” he said.
“Jackie was just a sweetheart, quiet and never disrespected anybody,” Francisco Sanchez said. “She is a real loss to the family. She is a real loss to my aunt and uncle.”
Relatives created a GoFundMe page to help pay for Jacqueline’s funeral expenses.
10:35 a.m.: This article was updated with details of the charges filed against Obdulia Sanchez.
2:50 a.m.: This article was updated with Sanchez’s not guilty plea and comments from attorneys.
This article was originally published at 10 a.m. July 25, 2017
The view from Sacramento
For reporting and exclusive analysis from bureau chief John Myers, get our California Politics newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.