A Santa Maria man has been sentenced to more than two decades in state prison for killing two young women after he ran a red light in town while driving drunk and crashing into their Jeep at a speed of more than 90 mph, prosecutors said.
Defendant Javier Artemio Cortes Cortes “was sentenced to a much-deserved term of 21 years to life for second degree murder and felony DUI with a special allegation of causing great bodily injury,” Deputy District Attorney Stephen F. Wagner told the News-Press. He pleaded guilty last month.
Mr. Cortes, while speeding and driving under the influence, ran the red light at the downtown intersection of Donovan and Miller streets at 3 a.m. March 16, 2019, hitting a Jeep Cherokee, killing Madison Coleman and Monica Gonzalez and gravely injuring Makayla Everhart and Kimberly Olivo,
Under California law, a driver can be charged with murder under these circumstances when the evidence supports they acted with knowledge and reckless disregard for human life.
“He showed an utter and complete disregard for public safety and demonstrated complete callousness by taking to the streets and making the decision to drive what must be described as a deadly weapon, which is the appropriate name given to an automobile when the driver is impaired/under the influence,” DDA Wagner told Judge John McGregor before the judge pronounced sentence.
“The deadly weapon label is even more apt in this case due to the outrageously excessive speed of the defendant,” the prosecutor said. “He had many opportunities to abort his decision to drive; the first coming at a party/gathering where the party host announced that all guests had a place to stay.”
Mr. Cortes drank alcohol at the party, and by all appearances had too much to drink, prosecutors said.
“The second opportunity was when he got a ride to his home and then set out driving to follow his girlfriend, who was in another car,” DDA Wagner told the judge.
“Moreover, the defendant had experienced first hand the ramifications of DUI when he witnessed a relative being arrested for impaired driving,” he added. “This was yet another brick in the notice and awareness of risk pile.
According to prosecutors, Madison Coleman was driving a Jeep Cherokee with her three friends inside — Ms. Gonzalez, Ms. Everhart and Ms. Olivo. She proceeded slowly into the intersection on a green light when she was broadsided by the defendant, prosecutors said.
Despite wearing seatbelts, Ms. Gonzalez and Ms. Olivo were ejected from the Jeep. Ms. Gonzalez, 20, died at the scene. Ms. Coleman, 17, was transported to Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, where she died from her traumatic injuries.
Ms. Olivo, 18, was transported to Cottage Hospital, where she survived after undergoing extensive surgeries over a significant period of time. And Ms. Everhart, 20, was transported to Marian, having suffered great bodily injuries. She, too, survived.
“As the court knows, Implied Malice Second Degree Murder rests upon a theory of notice of and awareness of risk – especially in death-related DUI incidents,” DDA Wagner told the judge.
“There were warning signs, galore, yet he flagrantly ignored them – choosing instead to roll the dice. While it is abundantly clear that the defendant did not intentionally kill Madison Coleman and Monica Gonzalez, it is repugnant to label the conduct ‘accidental.’
“Instead defendant’s actions and decisions to drive were deliberate in nature.
“His actions and decisions to put his ‘foot to the floor,’ reaching speeds in excess of 90 mph, were deliberate in nature.
“His actions and decision to run the red light were deliberate in nature.
“Lastly, your honor, the legal definition of ‘accident’ is to act without the requisite mental state, and the pleas entered and today’s pronouncement of sentence must, at least, inferentially reflect just that.”
According to District Attorney Joyce Dudley, “the prosecution team led by Deputy District Attorney Madison Whitmore and Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner worked diligently on every detail of this case for an extended period of time, including ensuring that the survivors and the families of the deceased voices were heard throughout these proceedings.”
Mr. Cortes’ guilty plea, she said, “is merely just another step toward healing for all of the families whose lives have been forever tragically altered.”