The 20-year-old driver accused of driving under the influence in a crash that killed a Valley Center couple is an active-duty member of the U.S. Navy who was attending a house party in Fallbrook hours before the crash, friends told NBC 7 News.
Earl Smith, Jr., who will turn 21 in two weeks, pleaded not guilty in a Vista courtroom Wednesday to face DUI charges and gross vehicular manslaughter charges in the deaths of Carl and Eunice Ackermann.
The married couple was walking on eastbound Old Castle Road near Mauka Drive around 6:15 a.m. Sunday when they were struck by an oncoming car.
California Highway Patrol officials said Oceanside resident Earl Smith Jr. was driving a Toyota Corolla at an unknown speed when he drifted off the roadway and slammed into the couple.
Smith was not injured and was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI following the crash officials said. He faces four felony counts, including gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence.
Prosecutors said that there is evidence Smith was a distracted driver and claim he was looking at a GPS device on his phone.
They also said an hour and a half after the incident, Smith’s BAC was at .12, which prosecutors described as “well over the legal limit.”
An hour and a half after the crime they did a prelim alcohol test and he had a .12 BAC. Friends at the courtroom said Smith had a DUI last year.
Smith’s friends say the defendant has been in the Navy for two years and lives on a local base. He joined the Navy in April 2011 and is currently a Seaman E3.
He played corner for Fallbrook Union High School’s football team friends said.
They are a tight-knit group of friends who were at a friend’s home in Fallbrook. A handful of people left the part at approximately 3:30 a.m. or slightly later. Smith allegedly told them that he was going to sleep in his car. They said they don’t know why he was in Valley Center at the time of the crash.
"This is really heartbreaking that this has happened," said friend Christopher Nichols. "Everyone's obviously shaken up by this, both sides, the victim and the crime committer."
Smith’s bail was originally set to $100,000 but was increased to $1 million on Wednesday because the judge believes he is potentially a risk to the public. If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in state prison.