DIAMOND BAR — Three days after six people lost their lives in a head-on crash blamed on a drunken driver on the 60 Freeway in Diamond Bar, Mothers Against Drunk Driving hosted a vigil Wednesday to urge the public to stop drinking and driving to prevent more deaths.
Families affected or shattered by intoxicated drivers joined with MADD officials and Sgt. Daniel Dail of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Traffic Services Detail at the Diamond Bar Center to highlight the human toll taken by the crime of DUI.
While violent crimes often garner the most media attention, “You have a better chance in the United States of being killed by a drunk driver than getting shot,” Dail said.
And MADD Los Angeles/Ventura Affiliate Executive Director Patricia Rillera pointed out that nationally, a third of all suspects involved in DUI-related crashed have previous DUI conviction. The alleged drunken driver in Sunday’s crash had only recently had restrictions to her driver’s license lifted due to a previous DUI conviction when she caused the collision.
“They’re repeat offenders,” Rillera said. “We need to have tougher penalties.”
A moment of silence was held for the six victims who died in the early-morning crash on the westbound 60 Freeway, just west of Phillips Ranch Road.
Two young women riding in a Chevrolet Camaro along with alleged drunken driver Olivia Culbreath, 21, of Fontana were killed in the crash. They were identified as Kristin Melissa Young, 21, of Chino; and Culbreath’s 24-year-old sister, Maya Louise Culbreath of Rialto.
Olivia Culbreath remained hospitalized with serious injuries Wednesday and was expected to face charges of DUI and vehicular manslaughter in connection with the fatal crash. Because she has a previous DUI conviction, the case could potentially be charged as a murder.
Four family members, representing three generations of a Huntington Park family, also died when the Camaro slammed head-on into their Ford Explorer as they were driving down the freeway. They were identified as Gregorio Mejia-Martinez, 47, Leticia Ibarra, 42, Jessica Jasmine Mejia, 20, and Ester Delgado, described as in her 80s.
Those gathered Wednesday urged the public to take the time and effort to find a ride or call for a taxi instead of getting behind the wheel after drinking.
Rich and Diana Thrower of Buena Park know the pain one person can inflict after making the decision to drive while under the influence. They lost their 21-year-old son, Michael Zuniga of Whittier, on March 16, 2012. He was a passenger in a car driven by 19-year-old David Darocha of Whittier — who officials said was drunk — when the car crashed at Mills Avenue and Telegraph Road in unincorporated South Whittier, killing both young men.
“No family should have to go through the horror we went through,” Diana Thrower said. “It ripped the family apart, and it all could have been prevented by a phone call.”
“Our hearts go out to the families affected by this accident this past weekend,” she said.
And she said one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with a death caused by a DUI driver is the fact that it’s entirely preventable.
“Make a phone call. Call a cab. There’s options out there,” she urged.
Annette Barrera, 20, of South Gate, who was struck and badly injured by a drunken driver while walking in Lynwood in 2012, and her mother Helen Arellanes also encouraged drivers to never drive while intoxicated.
“I just turned 20. I haven’t even started my life yet,” said Barrera, who still uses a wheelchair and deals with injuries suffered in the crash daily.
But through outreach work with MADD, Barrera said she hopes to help prevent future tragedies by telling her story to others, especially fellow young people.
And despite the obstacles she faces as the result of a DUI driver, Barrera keeps a positive outlook and her sense of humor.
“I have a lot that I could abhor and just hate, but I laugh, because it’s better medicine,” she said.
Rillera said MADD doesn’t ask that people give up drinking.
What we’re asking as that you drink responsibly,” she said.
PHOTO Diana Thrower of buena Park holds a picture of her son, 21-year-old Michael Zuniga, who died in a DUI-related crash in March of 2012 during a MADD vigil in Diamond Bar on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (By Sarah Reingewirtz)