Woman Pleads Guilty to Killing Pregnant Woman in Anaheim DUI Crash

Woman Pleads Guilty to Killing Pregnant Woman in Anaheim DUI Crash
File photo of a judge's gavel. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
City News Service

SANTA ANA, Calif.—A 44-year-old Garden Grove woman pleaded guilty Feb. 6 to driving impaired and running down a 23-year-old pregnant woman in Anaheim.

Courtney Fritz Pandolfi pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as well as a felony count of driving under the influence of a drug causing injury, along with misdemeanor counts of driving on a suspended or revoked license due to a DUI, driving under the influence of a drug and possession of drug paraphernalia. She also pleaded guilty to drug charges while in custody, according to Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue.

The crash occurred just after 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11, 2020, on Katella Avenue near Bayless Street, according to police.

Yesenia Lisette Aguilar of Anaheim, who was 35 weeks pregnant, was walking on the sidewalk with her husband when a white Jeep SUV jumped the curb and struck her, police said.

Paramedics took the woman to UCI Medical Center, where a caesarean section was performed to deliver the baby, police said.

Young Survivor

On Tuesday after the hearing, Ms. Aguilar’s now-3 1/2-year-old daughter, Adalyn Rose, frolicked while her father James Alvarez spoke with reporters.

Mr. Alvarez, who has become popular on social media for telling his story, reminisced about his wife, who had a knack for comforting him even after a long day at work.

“She was a beautiful soul. She cared so much about me,” Mr. Alvarez said.

He recalled how she let him know they were expecting a child.

“She knew how bad I wanted to be a father,” he said. “She couldn’t contain herself letting me know.”

She slipped him a piece of paper from the doctor with the news, he said.

“I remember being so happy,” he said.

Their daughter, through her mannerisms and looks, keeps the memory of Ms. Aguilar alive, Mr. Alvarez said.

“I kind of sit back and recognize little glimpses of my wife again,” he said.

The week she was killed, Ms. Aguilar had an appointment to take a state board test to become a hairstylist, which was her “life dream,” her husband said.

She worked as a ticket-taker at Disneyland, which was a great perk for Mr. Alvarez, who is a Disney fan.

Waiting for the case to go to trial was an “emotional roller coaster,” he said.

“I’ve been waiting three long years for this moment, so I’m emotionally drained,” Mr. Alvarez said. “It’s a sigh of relief. I’m thankful she took responsibility. I still can’t forgive, but I’m glad she took responsibility.”

The couple’s daughter is “the reason I keep going,” he said. “She gives me courage and strength to keep going.”

His message to his social media followers is, “I hope I can be an inspiration to others to not give up.”

Guilty Plea

Ms. Pandolfi’s attorney, Fred Fascenelli, said his client decided to plead guilty to spare the victim’s family the anguish of a trial.

Part of the delay in a resolution of the case was owed to prosecutors ensuring there was no lasting damage to Ms. Adalyn due to the emergency c-section surgery required to save her life, Mr. Fascenelli said.

“After the baby was given effectively a clean bill of health and my client was able to look at [evidence] and everything else she realized she made a horrible mistake and there would be no benefit to anyone to utilize her right to a trial,” Mr. Fascenelli said.

Ms. Pandolfi is attempting to take steps to manage her addiction issues and will likely get more effective help in prison, the defense attorney said.

“I think she’s coming to grips with her position in life and realizing she needs to make a change,” Mr. Fascenelli said.

Ms. Pandolfi, who was scheduled to be sentenced April 12, faces 15 years to life in prison.

She was originally charged with second-degree murder instead of voluntary manslaughter, which does not carry a life sentence because Ms. Pandolfi was previously convicted of DUI and was given a so-called Watson Waiver, which warns DUI offenders that if they get into a deadly collision, they face the upgraded charge of murder.

Ms. Pandolfi pleaded guilty on April 24, 2015, to possession of a controlled substance, being under the influence of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and driving under the influence of a drug, all misdemeanors.

She pleaded guilty July 8, 2016, to a felony count of identity theft, and misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence of a drug, falsely representing herself to an officer, being under the influence of a controlled substance, and possession of a controlled substance.