Survivor of Wrong-Way California Crash Imprisoned for 30 Years

December 6, 2018 Updated: December 7, 2018

Olivia Culbreath was the sole survivor of a collision that killed six people when her 2013 Chevrolet Camaro, heading east in the westbound lanes of the 60 Freeway near Los Angeles, plowed head-on into an SUV on Feb. 9, 2014.

Four years later, Culbreath has been finally sentenced to the maximum prison term for six counts of second-degree murder. Her sister was among the dead.

Culbreath entered a no-contest plea back in May, and was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment on Dec. 5, after legal challenges over blood samples that revealed she was near twice the alcohol limit as she piloted the car the wrong way, first down the 57 Freeway, then the 60 Freeway.

Culbreath had a prior drunk driving conviction from several years earlier. She had wrapped her car around a light pole. The judge warned her at the time that if she was involved in another drink-driving crash, she could be charged with murder.

Her second crash in the city of Diamond Bar was described as “possibly the worst crash in the history of Southern California” by patrol officers.

Her attorney said that the 30-year sentence was “extremely harsh.”

Officer Smelled Alcohol on Her Breath

She had been drinking at a bar when she got in her car in the early hours of the morning, reaching speeds of more than 100 miles per hour on the California freeways, according to investigators, as she headed down the wrong side of the road.

She was with a friend, Kristin Young, 21, and her sister, Maya, 24, when she drove her Camaro head-on into a Ford Explorer that carried three generations of family members.

Everyone in the two cars died, except for Culbreath. The driver in a third vehicle that got caught in the accident after the initial collision, Joel Cortez, also survived.

A highway patrol officer said he smelled alcohol on Culbreath when he first found her unconscious in hospital, undergoing a CT scan. He ordered medical personnel to give a blood sample, reported the Daily Bulletin, which her lawyers later claimed should be inadmissible because it was obtained without consent and without a warrant.

But the blood sample was allowed. During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Casey Higgins said that the sample, obtained about three hours after the crash, indicated she’d had “multiple drinks.”

Culbreath, who was 21 at the time of the crash, was initially brought into the court hearings on a stretcher, reported NBC, but in later sessions attended in a wheelchair.

‘I Take Full Responsibility’

She has been in custody for the last four years, including a spell in a hospital jail ward as she recovered from her injuries.

She said she regrets every day what happened and will “punish myself for the rest of my life” regardless of when she is released from prison.

Culbreath apologized to the victims’ families, reported NBC.
“I was wrong, I was so wrong and I take full responsibility for anything,” she said. Culbreath said she wants to be the best mother she can to her son, who was just 11 days old at the time of the crash.

The mother of Culbreath’s friend, Mary Young, who was killed in the crash, said that she’ll have to live with the pain of losing her daughter for the rest of her life, according to NBC.

“Olivia has to live with the consequences for the decision that she made that morning, and I’m sorry for it,” she said. “I do believe she was well aware that she was over the alcohol limit that night. I believe she knew that and was aware of that. But I just also believe that she didn’t think that it could happen to her.”

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