Cara Lee, OC Homicide No. 6: Killed by Alleged Drunken Driver
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The vehicular collision that claimed the life of Cara Lee is first mentioned here, but with the Orange County District Attorney confirming this morning that murder charges will be brought against the driver of the pickup that hit the sedan the 20-year-old Santa Ana woman was riding in, she makes our 2010 homicide roll.
Lee, the only child of Randy and Jackie Lee, was pursuing a modeling career while attending college and working as a recreational youth leader for the City of Newport Beach. She also survived a battle against cancer at the age of 17, according to today's District Attorney statement on the murder charge.
She was the lone passenger being driven by Ha Nguyen, 21, of Santa Ana, west on Sunflower Avenue through the Flower Street intersection in Costa Mesa just before 2:30 a.m. Sunday, when the 2003 gold Toyota Carolla they were in was struck by a white 2008 Toyota Tundra traveling south on Flower.
The force of the collision killed Lee, who was pronounced dead at the scene, while Nguyen was taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana with minor injuries.
The Tundra had run a red light, according to Costa Mesa police, who added that the pickup's driver, 22-year-old Orange Coast College student Gustavo Adrian Vega, of Costa Mesa, had already had a busy early morning.
Police say that Vega had been at a taqueria in Santa Ana before getting into the truck and getting involved in a hit-and-run crash involving another victim.
"Vega is accused of knowingly fleeing the scene of this accident without exchanging identifying information with this driver," reads the DA statement.
From there, the Tundra headed south on Flower onto the scene of the collision with the Carolla. According to the DA, Vega ran away and hid in a nearby housing complex before police found him a short time later.
Police say that when they caught up with Vega, he showed signs of being drunk, including bloodshot and watery eyes and the strong odor of alcohol on his breath. He allegedly performed poorly on field sobriety tests, and his blood alcohol content later came back at .17 percent, more than twice the legal limit, according to police, who say they also found cocaine in his pants pocket.
Vega has a previous driving under the influence conviction on his record, according to the DA, which pointed to his having pleaded guilty on Dec. 11, 2006, to misdemeanor DUI in connection with an arrest from April of that year.
He now faces one felony count of murder, one felony count of hit-and-run resulting in death for fleeing the scene of this accident on foot, one felony count of possession of cocaine, and a misdemeanor hit-and-run involving another victim. He faces up to 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
Currently being held on $1 million bail, Vega was scheduled to be arraigned in Santa Ana today.