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California Woman Sentenced In Drunken Hit And Run That Killed Young Parents
Henry Saldana-Mejia and Gabriela Andrade were driving their three daughters to see people's Christmas lights in 2020 when a drunken Grace Coleman plowed into their vehicle at 75 miles per hour, killing them both.
A California woman convicted in a fatal DUI crash that killed a couple and injured their three young daughters has been sentenced.
Grace Coleman, 23, will spend the next 21 years to life in prison for a 2020 crash that killed Henry Saldana-Mejia, 27, and Gabriela Andrade, 28, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced Friday. She had pleaded guilty in June to two felony counts of murder and other charges, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Coleman, whose blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.22% — nearly treble the legal limit — ran a red light at 75 miles per hour and then crashed into the victims' Nissan Versa around 7:45 p.m. on Dec. 8, 2020, as the young parents were driving their three daughters around Newport Beach to view people's Christmas lights.
The couple’s three children, Emma, Elena and Samantha (ages 5, 4, and 1, respectively, at the time) were also seriously injured in the crash, according to the Orange County Register. They were secured in their car seats but sustained broken legs and head injuries.
Coleman allegedly ignored the girls’ screams and tried to walked away from the scene.
Earlier in the evening, someone else had driven Coleman home from a brewery, but she nonetheless got behind the wheel of her Range Rover.
Friday’s hearing took place at the Orange County Superior Court, where Judge Gregg L. Prickett noted the defendant’s remorse for her actions, according to the Register.
“You see the pain death causes, and you’ve now, unfortunately, had to see this family describe the pain they feel,” Prickett stated. “People are hearing the impact that drinking and driving is having on innocent families.”
Two of the couple’s daughters, Emma and Elena — now 7 and 5 — wrote letters accompanied by drawings for relatives to read at Friday’s hearing, according to the Register.
“My name is Emma Sofia. I write this letter because I miss my mom and dad,” one letter read. “I love them very much. I feel very sad. I remember I was happy when they were here.”
Jeffrey T. Roberts, an attorney representing the victims’ families, told Law & Crime that the letters were “the most moving thing I’ve ever seen.”
According to Roberts, Coleman also came face-to-face with her victims’ families for the first time before the sentencing, when officials allowed Coleman to meet with the relatives of Saldana-Mejia and Andrade without the presence of lawyers.
“It was just Grace Coleman and a couple of the family members,” said Roberts. “They believe she’s very remorseful. They believe she made a very, very bad choice.”
Roberts said the victims’ relatives were ”not an angry, vitriolic family,” noting there wasn’t a “mention of hate of any sort,” according to Law & Crime.
Coleman cried when hearing the families’ statements, after which Judge Prickett sentenced her to 21 years: 15 years for the murders, three years for driving under the influence and three years for the girls’ injuries, according to Law & Crime.
Had the case gone to trial, she could have faced a minimum of 42 years in prison.
“We appreciate the judge’s wisdom in balancing the very sad tragedy with Grace Coleman’s age, full acceptance of responsibility and strong rehabilitation along with her year of selfless community service while in custody,” said Coleman’s attorney, Paul Meyer, according to the Register.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer released a statement following Coleman’s sentencing.
“These young parents were just trying to share the magic of Christmas with their three little girls, and it ended in the most horrific and completely avoidable tragedy,” said Spitzer. “The magic of Christmas turned into a real-life nightmare for this young family because a 22-year-old who knew the dangers of drinking and driving got behind the wheel and did it anyway.
“Three little girls are now orphans, and Grace Coleman is a convicted murderer who will have to live with the screams of three injured little girls trapped in their car seats playing over and over in her head for the rest of her life,” he added.
On top of pleading guilty to the charges connected with the Dec. 8, 2020 crash, Coleman also pleaded guilty to another DUI charge from earlier in 2020, according to the district attorney’s office. In that case, Coleman was arrested in Laguna Beach after driving with a .18% BAC.
According to Law & Crime, Coleman was also accused of driving drunk in 2019.
The victims' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Christmas Eve 2020 against Coleman and her parents, James and Kelli Coleman, accusing the parents of purchasing a 2010 Range Rover for their daughter despite previous instances of allegedly driving under the influence.
“What this girl needed was help, not a Range Rover,” Roberts stated.
In the wake of Coleman’s conviction, the civil case can proceed.
Saldana-Mejia and Andrade’s three daughters are now in the care of their maternal aunt.