June 17, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Jurors Unable to Reach Verdict in Fatal Crash Trial

By Susan Payne

A 33-year-old transgender woman was convicted on Jan. 9 for a hit-and-run with permanent and serious injury after a fatal crash in Irvine, but jurors were unable to reach a verdict on more serious charges, and therefore a mistrial has been declared. 

Toni Love Valenzuela was charged with second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, but jurors were deadlocked 9-3 for guilt on both counts, according to a report from KFI and the City News Service. 

Court will adjourn on Jan. 20 to consider how to proceed with the case against Valenzuela, who is accused of killing 43-year-old Carmella Van in 2018. 

Co-defendant Patrick Le, testified in the trial. Le pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter in 2021, and was sentenced to four years in prison with 1,000 days credit. 

Senior Deputy District Attorney Janine Madera opened the trial and characterized the events as “road rage” or a “contest of egos” between the co-defendants. 

Shuttle bus driver Sigifriedo DeHaro said he noticed the two co-defendants revving their engines at a red light at Red hill and Main Street, Madera said. Videos revealed the two drivers speeding away from the bus. 

Surveillance from another building revealed the two racing cars again, Madera said. Another driver, Kevin DeHaas, told investigators he was about to switch lanes when he noticed one of the cars gaining on him, so he jerked the wheel back, Madera said.

Le then crossed over into oncoming traffic and Valenzuela, going about 60 mph in a 50 mph zone, tried to “squeeze” between two cars, Madera said. More surveillance video shows Le crashing into Van’s car and Valenzuela kept going, Madera said. 

“Ms. Vann was an experienced driver, driving home from work and did nothing wrong,” Madera said.

Le was rushed to a nearby hospital, but Van was pronounced dead at the scene, Madera told the court room. 

A picture was taken of Valenzuela’s car, which helped in tracking down the driver. When questioned by police, Madera said she lies and says she didn’t know about the crash. 

Valenzuela’s record shows 11 citations, including reckless driving in 2014, for driving 90 to 100 mph, Madera said. 

Valenzuela’s attorney, June Woo Chung of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, called Le as a witness, who ultimately acknowledged “it was all ego, it was my lane,” Chung said.

“He’s fixated on beating Toni Valenzuela because he was pissed off she cut him off,” Chung said.

“Nine speeding tickets, I admit that’s a lot,” Chung said. “And there is evidence she lied. This is true. I’m not going to say you’re going to like or love Toni Valenzuela… But I am asking that you keep an open heart. You’re not here to punish her for her driving record or to punish her for her lies. At the end of this case I’m confident you will find her not guilty of murder or vehicular manslaughter.”

in NEWS
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