California woman, 23, sentenced to 21 years for drunk driving crash leaving three girls orphaned

California drunk driver, 23, is jailed for 21 years to life for plowing her Range Rover into family admiring Christmas decorations, killing parents and leaving their three young kids orphaned

  • Grace Coleman, 23, had two previous drunk driving incidents when she got behind the wheel of her Range Rover in Newport Beach on December 8, 2020
  • She ran a red light and smashed into the car of a family who had been out looking at Christmas lights, killing the father and mother and injuring their three girls
  • Coleman attempted to flee the scene, walking past the screaming girls trapped in the car, but was stopped by Newport Police 
  • In June she pleaded guilty, and on Friday was sentenced following a harrowing hearing in which she sobbed and the judge held back tears

Grace Coleman is seen in her booking photo in December 2020

Grace Coleman is seen in her booking photo in December 2020

A California woman has been sentenced to 21 years in prison for leaving three young girls orphans after she crashed into their parents’ car while drunk, instantly killing the mother and father, and then fleeing the scene past the screaming girls.

Grace Coleman, 23, wept in court in Newport Beach on Friday as relatives read out the girls’ victim impact statements.

She ran a red light in Newport Beach at 7:45pm on December 8, 2020, smashing her Range Rover into the Nissan Versa and killing Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia, 27, and his wife Gabriela Andrade, 28.

The family had been driving around to look at Christmas lights, and their daughters Emma Sofia, Elena and Samantha – aged from one to five at the time – were wearing their Christmas pajamas.

Coleman is seen sobbing in court on Friday as the victim impact statements are read out

Coleman is seen sobbing in court on Friday as the victim impact statements are read out

Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia, 27, and Gabriela Andrade, 28, (pictured) were declared dead at the scene after the crash

Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia, 27, and Gabriela Andrade, 28, (pictured) were declared dead at the scene after the crash

The couple left behind their three young daughters, Emma Sofia, Elena and Samantha, aged one, three and five

The couple left behind their three young daughters, Emma Sofia, Elena and Samantha, aged one, three and five

The girls are seen in court with relatives as Mayra Amaro, mother of Gabriela Andrade, read out her statement

The girls are seen in court with relatives as Mayra Amaro, mother of Gabriela Andrade, read out her statement

Amaro said that her granddaughters were suffering immensely and still required further surgery

Amaro said that her granddaughters were suffering immensely and still required further surgery

Coleman, arrested twice previously for drink driving, was three times over the legal limit when she crashed into the family. A friend had driven her home, but she then got back in her car.

On Friday, with the girls in court, their drawings and writings were read out.

‘I miss my mom and my dad,’ one of them said, in a letter read out by a relative.

Jennifer Gutierrez, a cousin of the victims, told the court: ‘Who is going to walk them down the aisle if they ever get married? Who is going to dance with them at their quinceanera?’

Judge Gregg Prickett, presiding over the Orange County Superior Court proceedings, had to pause and collect his emotions at one point.

Judge Gregg Prickett had to pause and collect himself during the emotional hearing

Judge Gregg Prickett had to pause and collect himself during the emotional hearing

One of the girls listens in as her impact statement is read out to the court

One of the girls listens in as her impact statement is read out to the court

Juana Corrigan, a sister of the couple, also addressed the court in Newport Beach

Juana Corrigan, a sister of the couple, also addressed the court in Newport Beach

One of the three siblings is seen leaving court on Friday after sentencing

One of the three siblings is seen leaving court on Friday after sentencing

The little girls are currently living with their aunt in San Diego

The little girls are currently living with their aunt in San Diego

Outside court, Mayra Amaro, mother of Gabriela Andrade, said that the girls were suffering.

‘They are the ones who cry for their mom and dad, who are no longer here.’

The girls were seriously injured in the crash, and still require surgery.

Their legs were broken in the crash, but they’ve now recovered physically and are living with their maternal aunt in San Diego with the support of other family.

The family is now suing Coleman in a civil suit, which also includes her parents who allowed her to drive the Range Rover despite her two previous drunk driving incidents.

Jeffrey T. Roberts, lawyer for the family, said the sentencing hearing was ‘probably the most moving thing I’ve ever seen.’

He said that Coleman met with the family privately and expressed her remorse.

‘This was the first time she had been face to face with the little girls,’ he said.

‘I know she had been hearing from the family about what they had lost. Now she was face to face with them.’

Coleman's Range Rover hit the couple's Nissan Versa, in which they were traveling with their three children, aged one, three and five, at around 7.45pm

Coleman’s Range Rover hit the couple’s Nissan Versa, in which they were traveling with their three children, aged one, three and five, at around 7.45pm

The young couple were declared dead at the scene of the crash (pictured) and the three children were rushed to hospital with critical injuries

The young couple were declared dead at the scene of the crash (pictured) and the three children were rushed to hospital with critical injuries

He said the family do not hate Coleman, but believe she made a ‘very, very bad choice’.

Roberts added: ‘They’re not an angry, vitriolic family. They didn’t mention hatred of any sort.’

Coleman pleaded guilty in June to second-degree murder.

‘Ms Coleman openly accepted responsibility to the judge for this complete tragedy,’ said Paul Meyer, her defense attorney.

In addition to the murder charge, Coleman pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, driving while her BAC was at or over the legal limit of .08%, and failure to stop at hit-and-run with injury and death.

She also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of DUI and driving with a BAC in excess of the legal limit stemming from an August 16, 2020 arrest.

If the case went to trial, Coleman could have been convicted to at least 42 years and eight months.

‘We recognize the difficult judicial call in a very tragic case involving a 22-year-old young woman and the truly horrible results of drinking and driving,’ Meyer said.

‘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.’

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