Diamond Bar Man Charged with Murder in Fatal Crash

SANTA ANA (CNS) - A Diamond Bar man previously convicted of driving under the influence in Riverside was charged today with second-degree murder for allegedly triggering a fatal wrong-way crash on the border of Irvine and Tustin while eluding police.

Pedro Pantoja Jr., 29, was also charged with driving under the influence of a drug causing injury, unlawful taking of a vehicle and evading a peace officer-reckless driving, all felonies, as well as misdemeanor counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and driving on a suspended or revoked driver's license due to a previous DUI, according to court records.

Pantoja also faces a sentencing enhancement allegation of inflicting great bodily injury on a woman who was a passenger in his car.

Arraignment for Pantoja, who's being held without bail, was pushed back a day, to Wednesday, because the defendant is due to undergo surgery at OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana this afternoon, Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue told Orange County Superior Court Judge Cheri Pham.

“He suffered multiple injuries, one being possibly a broken arm,'' Orue told the judge.

Pantoja has a prior felony conviction for leading police on a chase in 2017, and a prior DUI out of Riverside in 2013, Orue said.

Ordinarily, a fatal crash for an impaired driver would lead to a charge of vehicular manslaughter, but state law allows for charges to be upgraded to second-degree murder if a driver has a prior conviction for DUI or is accused of leading police on a chase before the collision.

Tustin police were called about 8:45 a.m. Sunday to the District at Tustin Legacy shopping center because a driver appeared to be passed out in an In-N-Out drive-thru, Orue said.

He alleged that Pantoja fled in a stolen car from Tustin police at a high rate of speed through a Costco gas station while other drivers were pumping gas. He also ran a red light before heading northbound in the southbound lanes of Jamboree Road, Orue alleged.

Pantoja went about 300 yards before slamming head-on into a vehicle driven by 62-year-old David Kawashima of Orange at Jamboree near Warner Avenue, Irvine police reported. Kawashima was pronounced dead at the scene.

Since the crash happened on the border of Irvine and Tustin, both police agencies have teamed up on the investigation.

The woman in Pantoja's car was also hospitalized with injuries that were not considered life-threatening, police said.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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