Despite objections from the defendant's lawyer, an Orange County judge ruled Tuesday that a Costa Mesa man can be held for trial on murder charges related to a hit-and-run crash last year that killed a 2-year-old and her grandmother in Irvine.
"It's a dangerous route that we're going down, your honor," attorney Gary Pohlson told Superior Court Judge Douglas Hatchimonji as he argued that his client should only be charged with manslaughter.
Pohlson's client, Alec Scott Abraham, 21, originally did face manslaughter charges, but after Abraham's arrest at a Costa Mesa park the day after the June 10 crash, the Orange County district attorney's office upgraded both counts to murder.
If convicted, Abraham could face up to 30 years to life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
On Tuesday, prosecutors argued that the increased charges are justified because Abraham knew his reckless driving could kill someone and he decided to continue anyway.
"How could he not know?" prosecutor Mark Birney said before describing excessive speed and reckless swerving that authorities allege led to the crash.
According to law enforcement, Abraham was driving a Ford Mustang more than 60 mph in a street race on westbound Alton Parkway in Irvine when he veered around stopped traffic and blew through a red light at Barranca Parkway without braking.
The Mustang broadsided a Chevrolet Cruze, killing its 54-year-old driver, Katherine Hampton of Lake Forest, prosecutors say.
Hampton's 2-year-old granddaughter, Kaydence, who was seated behind Hampton, died four days later at a hospital, according to authorities.
The crash seriously injured Hampton's daughter and 7-year-old grandson, who also were in the car, police said.
Abraham, who is in custody with bail set at $1 million, sat in an orange jumpsuit Tuesday as Irvine police officers and traffic investigators took the stand to lay the framework of the prosecution's case during the four-hour hearing.
According to the officers' testimony, one witness told them that Abraham's vehicle went "screaming by her" before slamming into the Cruze.
Police said another witness saw Abraham frantically searching his wrecked car before taking a bystander's cellphone and fleeing the scene.
The witness, a nurse, checked on the Cruze's driver and found no pulse, police said.
Pohlson agreed that the case is tragic, but he said more is needed to justify charging Abraham with murder.
"The defendant must be aware of the risk he is creating," he said.
But prosecutors allege Abraham was warned about reckless driving by officers who previously pulled him over for speeding and other traffic violations.
Investigators said they quickly identified Abraham as a suspect in the hit-and-run when they found four traffic citations with his name on them in the wrecked Mustang.
Birney contended that acquaintances who saw Abraham drive recklessly also warned him of the danger.
"Repeatedly he's told he's an idiot, the manner in which he drives he's going to hurt someone. And he did," Birney said.
On the stand, Irvine police Officer Garrett Gales described interviewing Abraham's co-workers at a Toyota dealership in Huntington Beach.
Some of them said they watched Abraham burn rubber before pulling out of the business' driveway, Gales said. Others said they heard him brag about running red lights and speeding, Gales said.
Gales also described a video that one of the co-workers turned over to police. He said Abraham had texted it to a group of friends in November 2014.
It appears to be shot on a cellphone from inside a car that looks to be the same black Mustang, Gales said. The video shows the 55 Freeway in front of the Mustang and then pans down to the speedometer showing about 90 mph.
As the engine grows louder, the camera alternates between the road and the dashboard, showing the speedometer continually increasing until it maxes out at more than 140 mph.
Gales said the camera then turns to show Abraham filming while driving.