Wrongful-death lawsuit filed on behalf of 3 children orphaned by DUI crash in Newport Beach

A fatal car collision occurred in early December that left three young children orphaned.
A fatal car collision occurred in early December that left three young children orphaned. A wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed on their behalf against the driver, Grace Elizabeth Coleman, 22, and her parents, James and Kelli Coleman.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on Christmas Eve on behalf of the three children orphaned by a fatal car crash in Newport Beach.

The civil lawsuit names Newport Beach resident Grace Elizabeth Coleman, the suspected DUI driver arrested in the Dec. 8 incident, and her parents, Newport Beach residents James and Kelli Coleman, as defendants.

Grace Elizabeth Coleman is also facing five felony counts, two of murder, two related to driving under the influence of alcohol and one for a hit-and-run collision, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office. If convicted on all charges, she could face 34 years and eights months in prison.

Newport Beach police said that they received a dispatch call at around 7:46 p.m. on Dec. 8 near Newport Coast Drive and South Pelican Hill Road. Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Heather Rangel said in December that officers found a collision involving Coleman’s black Range Rover and a Nissan Versa.

The driver of the Versa, Henry Saldana Mejia, 27, and his wife, Gabriela Andrade, 28, died. The Santa Ana couple’s 1-, 4- and 5-year-old daughters were in the backseat and taken to a hospital to be treated for injuries, police said.

The children are currently being cared for by their aunt, Dayana Saldana Meija, and have since been released from Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.

The complaint states that at the time of the collision, the three girls and their parents were going to view the holiday lights. The district attorney’s office alleges that the crash happened when Coleman, 22, ran a red light. Prosecutors said in December that Coleman’s blood alcohol level was more than 0.20%.

The state legal limit to drive is 0.08%.

Attorneys are accusing the Colemans of wrongful death and negligence. The lawsuit states that Coleman had a duty to not improperly operate her vehicle and that her parents, James and Kelli Coleman, should have known of the possibility that their daughter may drive under the influence, which attorneys allege has occurred at least twice in Laguna Beach — once in June 2019 and again in August last year.

Grace Elizabeth Coleman was arrested on suspicion of DUI in August, said Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, in December. She’s currently being charged with misdemeanor DUI counts for that accident, prosecutors said.

In the civil complaint, attorneys are seeking a money judgment for economic and emotional damages incurred as a result of the fatal collision.

Brett Nemeth, one of the two attorneys representing the children, said Monday that there is not currently a hearing scheduled.

Court records, as of Monday afternoon, do not indicate who the Colemans have hired to provide their defense.

Coleman is expected to appear for an arraignment hearing of her criminal charges at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Jan. 27, according to jail and court records. She remains in custody.

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