Newport Beach woman pleads guilty in fatal crash that killed Santa Ana couple, injured 3 children
A 23-year-old Newport Beach woman pleaded guilty Friday to charges of second-degree murder and for driving under the influence, resulting in a fatal collision that killed a Santa Ana couple and injured their three children in December 2020.
Grace Elizabeth Coleman sat quietly in the courtroom Friday beside her attorney, Paul Meyer, as Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett reviewed her rights and the submission of her guilty plea. Her voice was low and quiet. Coleman occasionally dabbed at her eyes as she responded to the questions while members of the couple’s family watched the court proceedings.
Henry Saldana Meija, 27, and Gabriela Andrade, 28, died on Dec. 8, 2020, and their three daughters were injured in the crash, which occurred near Newport Coast Drive and South Pelican Hill Road.
The family had been in Newport Beach for Saldana Meija to pick up a few of his things from the Resort at Pelican Hill, where he worked, and to see the holiday lights throughout the town when prosecutors say Coleman ran a red light driving at 75 mph. Coleman reportedly had a blood alcohol content level of 0.22% at the time of the collision. The state legal limit to drive is 0.08%.
Coleman admitted during the proceedings that she did not submit to taking a blood alcohol content test as required by law and that she left the scene of the accident.
Coleman faced two charges of murder in the second degree; driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury; driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content level over 0.08% causing injury; and failure to stop at an accident where there was injury or death.
She was also charged with two misdemeanor counts in relationship to driving under the influence and faces three additional sentencing enhancements for the injury of three children.
Family and friends of Linda Jean Lefler, who died June 15 while walking home from work, assembled Wednesday outside the Baker Street Stater Bros. to honor her life and plead for justice.
“Driving around looking at Christmas lights shouldn’t have ended in tragedy, but three young girls are orphans because of the selfish decision of a stranger,” said Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer in a statement released following the hearing.
Coleman was arrested on the day of the accident and was denied bail. She faces a maximum sentence of 30 years to life in prison in addition to 12 years and eight months to life.
She is scheduled to be sentenced on July 29.
“We’re satisfied with the guilty plea and we think a certain amount of justice will be done because of that, but nothing is going to change the past,” said Brett Nemeth, an attorney representing the family. “The girls have to go forward. It’s great that they have a big family that loves them and supports them and will be there for them. A lot of family was there today to see what was transpiring with the guilty plea. They just got to go forward and it’s going to be tough.”
Nemeth noted Coleman was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Laguna Beach months prior to the accident but drove drunk that December anyway, which resulted in the deaths of Saldana Meija and Andrade and seriously injured their children.
A GoFundMe page has been created to raise funds for the surviving girls.
“This is such a tragedy,” said Nemeth.
In response to a request for comment, Coleman’s attorney, Meyer, said, “Miss Coleman openly accepted responsibility to the judge for this complete tragedy.”
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