LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A state appellate court panel today rejected an appeal from a San Bernardino County woman who is serving a 30-year-to-life prison term for causing a wrong-way crash that killed six people, including her own sister, on the Pomona (60) Freeway in Diamond Bar.
The three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense's contention that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge should have granted a motion to suppress evidence from a blood draw taken from Olivia Carolee Culbreath, who was unconscious after the deadly crash in the early morning hours of Feb. 9, 2014.
``We find that the circumstances here clearly justified the warrantless blood draw,'' the panel found in its 12-page ruling. ``To call this an emergency would be an understatement; it was a catastrophe ... The totality of the circumstances shows that the warrantless blood draw was reasonable based on the exigent circumstances present.''
Culbreath -- who had previously been warned about the perils of drunken driving -- pleaded no contest in May 2018 to six counts of second- degree murder as her trial was beginning in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Culbreath drove north in the southbound lanes of the Orange (57) Freeway and then east in the westbound lanes of the 60 Freeway, where her 2013 Chevrolet Camaro collided head-on with a Ford Explorer in the early morning hours of Feb. 9, 2014.
Three generations of family members in the Explorer were killed: Huntington Park residents Gregorio Mejia-Martinez, 47; Leticia Ibarra, 42; their daughter, Jessica Mejia, 20; and her grandmother, Ester Delgado, 80.
Culbreath's 24-year-old sister, Maya, and one of Culbreath's friends, Kristin Young, 21, of Chino, also died in the crash, which left Culbreath injured.
Deputy District Attorney Casey Higgins noted that Culbreath's blood- alcohol level was measured at 0.15 percent -- nearly twice the limit considered impaired -- about three hours after the crash, and suggested that meant she had consumed ``multiple drinks'' and not just a glass of wine. He noted that a man who had called 911 to report a wrong-way driver wound up being quite prophetic in warning that something bad might happen before law enforcement could stop her.
Culbreath had a prior DUI conviction years earlier stemming from a crash in which she wrapped her car around a light pole, and had been warned that she could be charged with murder if she was involved in another DUI crash, the prosecutor told the judge at the woman's December 2018 sentencing.
Culbreath apologized to the victims' families shortly before being sentenced, saying in an emotional statement that she asks God nightly to comfort those who were hurt by what happened.
``I was wrong, I was so wrong and I take full responsibility for anything ...,'' she said, noting that she wants to be the best mother she can to her son, who was 11 days old at the time of the crash, and that it ``starts with taking responsibility.''
She said then that she regrets every day what happened and will ``punish myself for the rest of my life'' regardless of when she is released from prison.
Mary Mejia -- whose parents, sister and grandmother were killed -- told the judge that she ``lost my entire family'' in the crash and described the hours she spent agonizing over what happened to them after they failed to return home from a trip to a casino.
``I didn't want to forget them. I didn't want to forget anything about them,'' she said after learning about the deaths of her family members. ``No one will ever feel the pain I feel.''
One of Culbreath's attorneys, Robert Sheahen, described his client as ``extremely remorseful'' and said she has repeatedly asked him, ``Why am I here? I wish it had been me,'' since the crash.
Culbreath -- who had worked with the developmentally disabled -- insisted on pleading no contest to try to spare the victims' families more pain without the case going to trial, her lawyer said. He called what had happened an ``incomprehensible'' tragedy.
Since she was 21 at the time of the crash, Culbreath will be eligible for a hearing on parole after she serves 25 years behind bars, attorneys said.
She has been in custody since the crash after initially being hospitalized in a jail ward as a result of her injuries from the collision. She was initially brought to court on a stretcher and then eventually in a wheelchair, as she was brought to courtroom for her sentencing.
Culbreath's attorney told reporters after the hearing that the sentence was ``extremely harsh,'' while noting that ``the offense itself was possibly the worst crash in the history of Southern California.''
``This is a good lady ... She spent her life working for other people. She was studying nursing. She saved a life in jail,'' Sheahen told reporters.