Driver who hit Harbor student gets 7 years

An impaired Costa Mesa driver who struck a Newport Harbor High School student crossing the street outside the school was sentenced Friday to seven years in state prison.

Marnie Jo Lippincott, 39, pleaded guilty in September in Orange County Superior Court to felony driving under the influence. The charges included enhancements for causing great bodily injury or paralysis, as well as a misdemeanor for driving with a suspended license.

Lippincott was intoxicated while driving her black Chevy Tahoe on Dec. 6, 2011, when she hit Crystal Morales, a 17-year-old senior who was walking in the crosswalk off Margaret Drive, near Irvine Avenue and the northwestern end of Harbor High.

Morales was placed into a physician-induced coma after the incident and has since been recovering from head injuries. Her mother, Gloria Morales, described the incident as a 100-pound Crystal versus a 5,000-pound SUV.

Before Crystal was hit, she had called her mother to tell her she was walking home and planned to play some video games with friends.

Since the fateful day, Gloria said she's been helping her daughter in a manner none too different than when she was an infant.

"I had to bathe her and change her diapers, just like when she was a little girl," Gloria said.

She said her daughter now suffers suicidal thoughts, short-term memory loss and impulsiveness. As examples, she said her daughter has brushed her teeth with shampoo when no toothpaste was available, and bit off ChapStick when she was thirsty.

"I was never angry," Gloria said, "but this is also something you can never forgive."

When Gloria spoke in the Santa Ana courtroom, many attendees hung their heads and cried.

Because her other daughter, 15-year-old Monique Claudio, attends Harbor High, "Every day I have to see this crosswalk Crystal almost lost her life in," Gloria said.

Crystal Morales, now 18, addressed Lippincott with her mother pointing to the words in her prepared statement.

"This accident hurt me so much physically and emotionally," Crystal Morales said. "I'm really hoping she'll be put away for a while because she almost killed me."

Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer and Harbor High's school resource officer, Vlad Anderson, were present during the standing-room-only sentencing.

Lippincott's lawyers said she has depressive psychosis with auditory hallucinations.

In the courtroom Friday, Lippincott — who, according to court records, pleaded guilty in 2005 to theft, burglary and obtaining prescription drugs by fraud, and has two previous traffic violations that include speeding — was wearing a white-knit jacket with a black skirt. There were balls of tissues on the table in front of her. When she spoke, Lippincott was teary and nearly inaudible.

"I just chose wrong," she said. "I've just hurt so many people. I just thought I was hurting myself. You have every right to be angry. If it was my children, I would be angry.

"I hope one day, one day you can forgive me and after today your family can heal."

— Daily Pilot Staff Writer Bradley Zint contributed to this report.

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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