Driver who hit Harbor student pleads guilty

SANTA ANA — A Costa Mesa woman whose SUV plowed into a 17-year-old student outside of Newport Harbor High School shortly after classes let out pleaded guilty Thursday to felony driving under the influence and causing the wreck.

Marnie Jo Lippincott, 39, entered the plea in Orange County Superior Court. The charges included enhancements for causing great bodily injury or paralysis, as well as a misdemeanor for driving with a suspended license.

Lippincott was driving her black Chevy Tahoe on Dec. 6 when she hit Crystal Morales, who was crossing Margaret Drive in a crosswalk near of the school.

Morales fell into a coma after the crash and is still recovering from head injuries sustained in the accident.

"I just feel bad for Crystal and her family," Lippincott tearfully told a reporter outside the courtroom.

Morales's mother, Gloria Morales, called the conviction "a little bit of a relief," although she said she still feels anger and stress.

"She's going to be suffering for the long-term," she said of her daughter.

During proceedings, Lippincott appeared before Judge Walter Schwarm in a pink blouse and white skirt, her hands crossed in front of her. Schwarm cautioned her that her guilty plea would result in a first-strike offense, or a conviction of a serious or violent felony, under California law.

Outside of the courtroom, an attorney for Lippincott comforted her, rubbing her back as prosecutors and Morales's family, and Lippincott's defense team, huddled in different areas of the courthouse's hallways.

Crystal Morales is enrolled in a program at Coastline Community College for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries. The Coastline program teaches her techniques for getting through each day, Gloria Morales said.

Although many of the injuries to her body have healed, Gloria Morales said her daughter still struggles with short-term memory loss.

The family, her mom said, is grateful she didn't lose her long-term memory and recognized family members and friends after she came out of a coma.

We're "getting her back to where she needs to be," Gloria Morales said.

The Harbor community has rallied to Morales' side, hosting fundraisers to help her family pay for medical care. Crystal Morales has been described as upbeat and happy; she had a part-time job playing the costumed mouse at Chuck E. Cheese's.

Lippincott will be sentenced Dec. 7. She faces a max sentence of eight years in prison.

Court records show that in 2005 Lippincott pleaded guilty to theft, burglary and obtaining prescription drugs by fraud. She also has two previous traffic violations, including speeding.

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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