Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Daughters Orphaned in DUI Crash in Newport Beach

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Daughters Orphaned in DUI Crash in Newport Beach
A man pays respects near the site of a crash that killed two parents and injured their three children in Newport Beach, Calif., on Dec. 9, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
City News Service

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—The family of three young sisters injured in a Newport Beach collision that killed their parents are suing the 22-year-old alleged drunken driver facing murder and other charges stemming from the crash, an attorney representing the victims said Dec. 28.

The lawsuit, which was filed Christmas Eve in Orange County Superior Court, names Grace Elizabeth Coleman as well as her parents, James and Kelli Coleman.

The Newport Beach resident is charged with two counts of second-degree murder stemming from the Dec. 8 crash that killed 27-year-old Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia and his wife, 28-year-old Gabriela M. Andrade, both of Santa Ana. Their daughters, 1, 3, and 5, were hospitalized after the crash, but have since been released and are recovering from broken limbs, said attorney Jeff Roberts, who filed the wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf.

The siblings are being cared for by their aunt, who is seeking to become their guardian, Roberts said.

"They are doing remarkably well," Roberts said of the girls. "They have an amazing support system with their aunt. She is right there with them. And they've got grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Everyone is chipping in."

Each of the girls "has a cast on their leg, one has two casts," Roberts said. "But they're in good spirits."

Roberts alleged that Grace Coleman's parents were responsible due to their daughter's history of drinking and driving.

"There's no way they didn't know about her hit-and-run in Laguna Beach, which was taken care of by insurance, and I can't imagine they didn't know about her DUI in August of 2020," Roberts said.

Coleman's arrest Aug. 29 in Laguna Beach on a misdemeanor DUI was what led prosecutors to file second-degree murder charges against the defendant. A DUI-fueled fatal crash would typically lead to manslaughter charges, but they are often upgraded to murder with a prior arrest or conviction for DUI.

Coleman was involved in a hit-and-run in June of 2019 when she struck a parked car and then fled the scene because of "intoxication," Roberts alleged.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker told Orange County Superior Court Judge Andre Manssourian about the two incidents at a hearing last week in which she argued against allowing Coleman to exit jail and enter into a rehab facility. Manssourian declined the request and bail for the defendant.

Prosecutors allege Coleman's blood-alcohol level was 0.22 percent—nearly three times the legal limit—at the time of the collision.

She got a ride home the night of the fatal crash, but then got back behind the wheel of her vehicle and collided with the victims' car as the parents were showing their girls Christmas decorations in Newport Beach, Roberts alleged.

Saldana-Mejia worked at Pelican Hill Resort and was in the area to pick up some items from his job, "and because they were down here in Newport Beach, they had the kids bundled up in their pajamas and were driving around and looking at holiday lighting," Roberts said.

"It's a tragedy on so many levels," Roberts said. "She has affected a family of ... people who loved mom and dad, and then her mother and father, and then her life. She's just 22 years old, and now she's facing [42 years to life] in prison."