SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 40-year-old twice-convicted drunk driver was convicted Wednesday of an alcohol-fueled collision that killed a 19-year-old Starbucks employee walking home from work in Orange.
Sitani Pinomi was convicted of second-degree murder, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, DUI with a blood-alcohol of .08% or more causing injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol and drug while causing injury, all felonies, as well as a misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended license.
Jurors, who deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours, also found true sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury on the victim.
Sentencing is set for April 28, and Pinomi could face 15 years to life in prison.
Pinomi killed Aden Alexander Uriostegui of Orange just after 10 p.m. on May 19, 2021 at Tustin Street and Heim Avenue. The victim waited for the light to change and when it was green he started walking in a crosswalk, Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue said.
"The defendant comes tearing down Tustin, admittedly speeding, admittedly intoxicated without the lights on and runs a red light," Orue said in closing arguments Wednesday. "This is why we're here. Because he does it over and over again."
Uriostegui was walking home from his job down the street at a Starbucks when he was struck in the crosswalk, police said at the time. The victim's work apron and a bag of food were found among the debris at the collision, Orue said.
Pinomi admitted to officers that he was speeding in his 2002 Ford F250 pickup truck when he "blasted through the victim, sending him 200 feet" to the entrance of a Valero gas station at 2490 N. Tustin St., Orue said. Uriostegui was pronounced dead at the scene.
The victim, who lived at 1800 E. Heim Ave., was seen on a bus surveillance video camera waiting at a stoplight to cross before the collision, Orue said. Jurors also saw surveillance videos from two gas stations and from a residence down the street, Orue said. Multiple witnesses also testified.
"Defendant admits to drinking and admits speeding," Orue said.
Pinomi, however, changed his story in testimony when he claimed another car hit the victim.
"I'm sure you saw the look of shock on my face when he said he didn't hit him," Orue said in closing arguments.
Pinomi said, "Prove it that I hit this guy," according to Orue.
"There's only one reason that happened -- because Mr. Pinomi killed him," Orue said. "He knew the risks (of drunken driving) and he did it anyway... How did he characterize his driving? Crazy. He turned that truck into a missile and he railroaded that victim."
Pinomi failed a field sobriety test and told officers he had five to seven mixed cocktails containing seven kinds of alcohol, Orue said.
"When he was asked on a scale of one to 10 with one being buzzed and ten being as drunk as he's ever been he says he's a nine," Orue said.
Pinomi also admitted to "smoking some weed" before the collision, Orue said.
Pinomi said he was out celebrating his birthday, which was on May 4, at a strip club at 3020 E. Coronado St. and was attempting to drive home in Orange about six miles away, Orue said.
Three hours after the collision, a blood test showed his blood-alcohol level at .103%. It also showed he had marijuana in his system, Orue said.
Pinomi was convicted of two separate drunk driving violations in June 2007. He was arrested for DUI on Feb. 10, 2006, and May 27, 2007, and when he resolved both on the same day he was given what is known as a Watson Advisement, which warns drivers that if they kill someone while driving intoxicated they could face an upgraded charge of murder instead of manslaughter.
"There is no question mistakes were made by my client," defense attorney Madeline Berkley said in her opening statement of the trial. "But just because there was a loss of life it doesn't mean it's a murder and that's what you're here to decide."
Berkley added, "This case is not as clear-cut and simple as the DA is making it ... Just because it's sad and awful and terrible that a young man passed away doesn't mean it's a murder."
Berkley said her client's "state of mind" at the time of the collision "is the key to this case." She added that: "Finding my client guilty won't bring Mr. Uriostegui back."