Closer Look: Deadly DUI Crashes in San Diego

From June 1 to Aug. 26, 2015, local agencies reported a total of five deadly DUI crashes on the streets of San Diego

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Over the past three months, NBC 7 has reported on four suspected DUI crashes in San Diego County that resulted in deaths – from a devoted rancher killed in a head-on hit-and-run, to a mother of three killed while walking to Cowles Mountain.

According to local law enforcement agencies – including the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) east San Diego sector – there were a total of five deadly DUI crashes on city streets and highways between June 1 and Aug. 27, 2015.

Of those five cases, three were reported on city streets under the SDPD’s jurisdiction, while the other two cases were on highways under the jurisdiction of CHP East.

NBC 7 reached out to other local agencies for statistics on deadly DUI crashes within that same date range, including the North County and Border sectors of CHP and local police departments in Carlsbad, Oceanside, National City, El Cajon, La Mesa, Chula Vista, Coronado and Escondido.

CHP’s Border sector, as well as the Carlsbad, Escondido, La Mesa, Oceanside, Chula Vista and Coronado police departments all reported zero deadly DUI crashes. The National City and El Cajon police departments did not immediately respond to NBC 7’s request.

CHP North County said it had investigated six deadly DUI collisions since January 2015, but could not specify if any of those cases fell within the period of June 1 to Aug. 26.

NBC 7 took a look at deadly DUI crash figures for that same date range in 2013 and 2014.

SDPD, SDSO and CHP East reported a combined total of six deadly DUI crashes for that time period in 2013: two investigated by SDPD, one by SDSO and three by CHP East. The Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) also handled one deadly DUI collision during that time.

In 2014, those agencies investigated a combined total of four deadly DUI accidents within the same date range: one by SDPD, two by SDSO and one deadly bicycling DUI investigated by CVPD.

Meanwhile, other police departments – Escondido, Carlsbad, La Mesa and Coronado – all reported zero deadly DUI crashes during those dates in 2013 and 2014. The Oceanside, El Cajon and National City police departments have not yet provided their stats for those years, and CHP North County and Border sectors also did not respond to NBC 7’s request for those stats.

As the years pass, local law enforcement agencies said deadly DUI crashes continue to be a problem on local streets.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office said the fatal DUIs over the past few months mark a "summer of shame" on our roadways.

San Diego law enforcement agencies said they continue to operate DUI checkpoints across the county on a consistent basis in an effort to get intoxicated drivers off the road and prevent DUI-related crashes and deaths.

According to SDPD Traffic Division Officer Mark McCullough, the Traffic Division has launched a new program that aims to show local teenagers exactly what happens during a DUI arrest, and the consequences that follow.

McCullough said the Teen Alcohol Awareness Program (T.A.A.P.) is an effort to reach out to teens before they start driving. In the class, teens are taken to a working DUI checkpoint during late-night hours and debriefed at a police station.

McCullough said the first T.A.A.P. classes were held on July 25 and Aug. 15. There was so much interest from the public for the classes, the Traffic Division agreed to host another class on Aug. 27 to accommodate the requests.

“We have a full class slated and our funding agency, The California Office of Traffic Safety, will be there as well to look at the class first-hand,” McCullough told NBC 7.

The deadly DUI crashes covered by NBC 7 over the summer season, thus far, include a July 22 crash in the North County involving suspected drunk driver Anthony Rodriguez, 30, and victim Enid Diana Mayer-Sheaf, 61.

In that incident, SDPD Lt. Leonard Flake said Rodriguez crossed a center divider in a Fiat 500 while heading east on Carmel Valley Road, north of State Route 56. As Rodriguez neared Camino Del Sur, he slammed into a Chevrolet Nova traveling in the opposite direction being driven by Mayer-Sheaf.

Mayer-Sheaf died at the scene, and Rodriguez was arrested on suspicion of DUI. The victim left behind a devastated husband and 22-year-old son.

"The horn has been sounded many, many times for many years continually about the perils of drinking and driving," said Lt. Flake that day at the scene of the crash. “Yet here is another example of what frequently occurs when people make the choice to drink and then get behind the wheel.”

At a July 30 arraignment, prosecutors said Rodriguez had been to a Padres game and bars in downtown San Diego and Pacific Beach in the hours before the deadly crash. Based on the DUI suspect’s height and weight, prosecutors said they believe he had close to 10 drinks that day.

Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to DUI causing death, gross vehicular manslaughter and having a blood alcohol level in excess of 0.08 causing injury. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in prison.

Two weeks later, on Aug. 5, a deadly DUI crash in Bonsall took the life of Escondido resident Juan Corza Gonzalez, 62 – a hard-working rancher, father and grandfather to 11 grandchildren.

Gonzalez was killed in a crash on Old Highway 395 just before 5:30 a.m. when suspected drunk driver Garrett Gelrud, 34, drifted across the double yellow lines as he approached a curve on the rural stretch of road. Gelrud slammed his Chevy Suburban head-on into Gonzalez’s Nissan Versa, the impact killing Gonzalez at the scene, CHP officials said.

An Escondido couple witnessed the wreck as they drove on Old Highway 395, but they could not avoid striking the back of Gonzalez’s Nissan. The couple sustained minor injuries.

Gelrud – suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol – fled the scene of the deadly crash on foot. Just after 6 a.m., CHP officials received calls from citizens reporting Gelrud walking barefoot down the road. Minutes later, Gelrud was detained by officials at a nearby gas station.

He was arrested and charged on suspicion of DUI. Gelrud – who has prior DUIs on his record – had a readiness hearing on Aug. 27. He’s currently jailed at the Vista Detention Facility with bail set at more than $3 million.

A little over one week later, on Aug. 13, wife and mother of three, Rocio De Anda Leamon, 38, was killed by suspected drunk driver Joshua Taylor, also 38.

Leamon, who had the right of way, was crossing Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive in San Carlos just before 6:30 p.m. when Taylor failed to stop at a red traffic light, slamming his Chevy Silverado into Leamon.

Leamon was rushed to a nearby hospital, but died a short time later. She was on her way to Cowles Mountain for her daily hike at the time of the suspected DUI crash. Her widowed husband told NBC 7 they were happily married for 20 years.

Taylor, charged with four counts, including first-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter, is slated to appear in court on Sept. 29.

Finally, on Aug. 22, another suspected DUI crash claimed the lives of two young women in Bay Park.

Officials said Antony Schoenle, 20, was driving a 2000 Dodge Stratus accompanied by passengers Lupe Acosta and Lizzy Garcia around 7:30 a.m. in the 4800 block of Friars Road near Pacific Highway.

Schoenle, accused of driving under the influence, lost control, slammed into a curb, drove onto an embankment and crashed into a large boulder. Flames engulfed the mangled car.

Schoenle managed to escape the flaming wreckage, but Garcia, Acosta and a puppy couldn’t get out and died in the car, police said.

Schoenle was hospitalized with injuries and burns. He was arraigned from a hospital bed at UCSD Medical Center on Aug. 26, and subsequently arrested and charged with two counts of felony manslaughter, felony DUI and providing false information.

Prosecutors said the underage driver had allegedly been partying for 12 hours straight before the deadly crash, using alcohol and drugs, before getting behind the wheel.

Schoenle is facing five counts, including two charges of vehicular manslaughter, and is being held at San Diego Central Jail on a bail of $2 million. He’s scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 1 and Sept. 29.

In the fight against drunk driving, the non-profit Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) continues to be a well-known resource.

MADD operates an affiliate office in San Diego and hosts “Victim Impact Panels” locally at the Chula Vista Courthouse Jury Lounge, the El Cajon Courthouse Jury Lounge, the San Diego Hall of Justice Jury Lounge and the Vista Courthouse Jury Lounge.

The panels include victims who were injured in impaired driving crashes or loved ones of those who were killed or injured in a DUI crash. Speakers describe how those crashes have impacted their personal lives. The panels, according to the MADD website, are designed to expose drunk drivers and potential impaired drivers to the real impact a DUI can have on others.

MADD says judges, probation officers and military commanders require convicted DUI offenders to attend a Victim Impact Panel as an element of their sentences.

The panels are held seven times per month across the aforementioned locations in San Diego, with three of the panels held in Spanish. For more information on MADD San Diego County, call (858) 564-0780.

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