Laguna woman pleads not guilty in fatal crash

A Laguna Beach woman involved in a fatal car crash in March pleaded not guilty on three counts in a Santa Ana courtroom Tuesday.

Leslie Juarez, 27, is charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated, driving under the influence and causing injury, and driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08% or more, according to court records.

She also faces sentencing enhancements for allegedly driving with a blood-alcohol level of .20% or more, causing bodily injury or death to more than one victim, and inflicting great bodily injury, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

Prosecutors contend that on March 29 around 11:30 p.m., an intoxicated Juarez was driving her Mitsubishi Eclipse southbound on the San Diego (405) Freeway in Irvine, just north of the Sand Canyon Avenue exit.

Juarez reportedly was speeding and swerved into another lane, colliding into the passenger side of a Nissan Sentra driven by Joelle Friedlander, 21, according to prosecutors.

The collision reportedly caused Friedlander's car to go over the center divider and spin out of control before it stopped onto the freeway's northbound lanes. The impact also caused the car's lights and engine to turn off.

Friedlander then exited her vehicle and ran to the center divider.

A couple minutes after the initial collision, J.C. Droege, a motorcyclist traveling northbound, crashed into the Sentra. Droege, 32, was thrown from his motorcycle and later pronounced dead at the scene.

Friedlander was taken to Hoag Hospital in Irvine, where she was treated for cuts, bruises and a fractured ankle.

The district attorney reported that California Highway Patrol officers at the scene observed Juarez exhibiting signs of intoxication, such as emitting an odor of alcohol, and having slurred speech and shaky balance.

According to the district attorney, Juarez's blood-alcohol level two hours after the crash was .23% — nearly three times the legal limit.

Juarez has a pretrial scheduled at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on July 24.

Twitter: @joannaclay

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