The family of a 21-year-old driver struck and killed by a suspected drunk driver driving his kids home from school cried as the accused entered a not guilty plea to charges against him Tuesday.
Paul Schenk is facing several charges related to the crash, including Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated, 2 counts of Felony Child Endangerment, DUI Causing great bodily injury as well as Driving with a Measurable amount of Alcohol and injury to a child under 5 years old.
In court, Schenk's attorney Paul Pfingst argued that his client is a veteran with a 21-year service career pulling wounded warriors from combat. Because of his past, he suffered mentally, Pfingst told the judge.
Six days before the crash, Schenk went to VA Hospital in San Diego asking for help, but was turned away, according to Pfingst.
"We always make an effort to meet the Veteran's needs based on the urgency of their health issue," a statement from the VA San Diego read. "In addition to regular mental health appointments, we offer our Psychiatric Emergency Clinic which is a walk-in clinic for Veterans in distress or if feel they need urgent care. That clinic that is open Monday - Friday from 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Veterans can also get urgent mental health care through our Emergency Department which is open 24/7."
As Pfingst entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client, the victim's family was both visibly outraged and saddened in court. Family members spoke out in court, calling the defendant names, while others were barely able to control their crying.
"The family is devastated," Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright said after the arraignment. "There were 16 family members that were present here today. Her parents. Both of her brothers. Her sister. Obviously, for someone who is just 21-years-old to lose their life, it is always a sad circumstance and the family is doing the best as they can."
At the Tuesday arraignment, Bright outlined what happened the day of the crash.
On Sept. 12, Schenk picked up his 5-year-old and 4-year-old from school, Bright said in court. He put his 5-year-old in the front seat and 4-year-old in the back seat without seat belts.
At the time of the crash, he drove with his kids in the back seat with a blood-alcohol level approximately more than four times the legal limit, at 0.33, according to Bright -- the equivalent of 17 drinks.
Bright said Schenk crossed the shoulder near Vista Ramona Road and E Old Julian Highway and over-corrected, smashing into the victim's car head-on at approximately 4:30 p.m.
The impact of the crash instantly killed Racheal Guarneros – Callahan, 21.
Family members say she had just finished work at the Riviera Oaks Resort and was on the phone with someone when the collision occurred.
Her cousin Valissa Espinosa said the allegation that the other driver was driving under the influence is “really going to weigh on all of us knowing she was stripped away innocently."
The 4-year-old was ejected from the backseat and had to be airlifted to Rady Children's Hospital, where he received stitches for his injuries; the 5-year-old was taken to Palomar Hospital.
Pfingst asked the judge for no bail until his client undergoes surgeries for his injuries from the crash, while Bright asked for $2 million bail.
The judge set bail at $2 million.
If convicted, Schenk could face 18 years in prison. He will next appear in court on Nov. 9.