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Driver in crash that killed 3 Las Vegas teens in Huntington Beach pleads not guilty to murder and DUI

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Bani Duarte, 27, of San Clemente pleaded not guilty Monday to three counts of murder in a March 29 crash in Huntington Beach in which three Las Vegas teenagers were killed and a fourth was injured.
(Courtesy of Huntington Beach Police Department)

A woman charged with murder and driving under the influence in a March 29 crash that killed three Las Vegas teenagers in Huntington Beach pleaded not guilty Monday in Orange County Superior Court.

Bani Duarte, 27, of San Clemente was charged Friday with three counts of murder and one count of driving under the influence causing injury. She also faces a possible sentencing enhancement on allegations of inflicting great bodily injury, according to Orange County Superior Court records.

If convicted, she could be sentenced to 51 years to life in state prison, according to prosecutors.

Duarte was taken into custody at about 1 p.m. Sunday in Downey on a $5-million warrant after investigators determined she may have intended to flee the country to avoid prosecution, authorities said. She is being held in Orange County Jail in Santa Ana.

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She is expected to appear Thursday in Superior Court in Westminster for a hearing to review her bail.

Duarte, who is listed in jail records as a receptionist, was initially arrested after the crash on suspicion of driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter and posted $100,000 bail three days later.

“As the investigation continued, more evidence was obtained,” authorities wrote in a news release Sunday. “Investigators received information the female driver was possibly intending on fleeing the country to avoid prosecution.”

The teenagers who were killed were visiting Southern California from Las Vegas for spring break when the fiery crash occurred shortly after 1 a.m. at Pacific Coast Highway and Magnolia Street.

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Authorities allege Duarte was traveling north on PCH in a Hyundai Sonata when she rear-ended the teens’ Toyota, which was stopped at a red light at the intersection with Magnolia.

The impact pushed the Toyota through the intersection and forced it into a pole, and it burst into flames, prosecutors said.

Brooke Hawley, 17, Dylan Mack, 18, and A.J. Rossi, 17, were killed. Alexis Vargas, a fourth teenager in the Toyota, survived the crash and was taken to a hospital for treatment. A GoFundMe page set up to help fund his recovery had raised about $1,700 as of Monday afternoon.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN


UPDATES:

12:30 p.m.: This article was updated with Duarte’s plea.

This article was originally published at 8:30 a.m.

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