Testimony: Irvine cheerleader was breathing after car wreck

NEWPORT BEACH — A 14-year-old cheerleader clung to life with the faintest pulse after a man accused of drunk driving plowed into the car she was riding in over Memorial Day weekend, a witness testified Thursday in the Harbor Justice Center.

A passerby checked on an unconscious Ashton Sweet after the crash but felt no pulse, said Irvine police Officer Tim McDonald.

Sweet's body was limp in the woman's arms. McDonald assisted and laid Sweet onto the curb. He said he felt a faint pulse and shallow breathing before paramedics arrived and attended to her.

Days later, Sweet died in a hospital after her family chose to take her off life support and donate her organs.

Austin Jeffrey Farley, 26, of Irvine was arrested in connection to the May 29 incident at the intersection of Culver Drive and Irvine Boulevard that left Sweet dead and four others injured.

Farley, who prosecutors allege was driving his pickup truck drunk, was described as "dazed and confused" that early morning. Police said at the scene Farley had bloodshot, watery eyes, that he smelled of alcohol and moved both slowly and deliberately.

After the crash, police recalled seeing its victims lying on a grassy area nearby. One passenger of the hit Mercedes-Benz was said to be clutching her stomach and in constant pain.

The driver of the Mercedes-Benz, Mohammad "Michael" Ghaemi, father to one of the girls in the car, was sitting on a utility box and seemed disoriented, according to the testimony.

With blood splattered on his face, he told police that he flashed his headlights at Farley and slowed down before entering the intersection, according to Irvine police Officer Karen Reece's court testimony.

Farley's defense attorneys pointed to evidence that Farley and his passenger, his girlfriend at the time, were fighting prior to the crash, and that she may have hit him in the head as he was driving through the intersection.

They also questioned whether Ghaemi received a sobriety test at the scene, or whether his Mercedes-Benz was inspected for evidence of substances that could have impaired his driving.

Police testified that Farley's girlfriend said Farley ran the red light, although his defense attorneys pointed to the lack of physical evidence of who had the right of way.

"I'm so sorry. It was a red light and he went," Farley's girlfriend allegedly told Irvine police Officer Sean Metevia when he approached the car after the crash.

Two forensics experts from the county crime lab testified that Farley had a blood alcohol level of .20 — about 2 1/2 times the legal limit — and a detectable level of two anti-anxiety medications in his system.

The testimony indicated that the prescription drugs can magnify the effects of alcohol.

Defense attorneys, however, contended that the blood was tested days after the crash and may have cultivated bacteria, which could produce additional alcohol and alter an accurate reading.

Farley sat stiff and attentive as prosecutors presented their evidence against him. About 10 friends and family members — including Sweet's mother, Elizabeth Sweet, and stepfather David Pidcock — were in attendance, as well as a Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative.

The hearing took place on what would have been the eve of Sweet's 15th birthday. To honor her memory, friends and family members are expected to go to a small celebration Friday at the tree planted in her memory at the intersection where she was killed, eat cupcakes and drink coffee.

Farley is next set to appear in court at 9 a.m. Oct. 17, in Santa Ana's Central Justice Center, Courtroom C-5.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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