San Diego

‘Am I Going to Jail?' Alleged Drunk Driver Apparently Asked Officer After Fatal Crash That Killed 21-Year-Old

At the time of the crash, the suspected drunk driver was driving his two kids - unrestrained - home from school with an alleged blood-alcohol level more than four times the limit, according to the DA.

The family of a 21-year-old driver struck and killed by a suspected drunk driver with a blood-alcohol level four times the legal limit last September struggled in court as they relieved the moment they first realized they lost their loved one. 

At a preliminary hearing for suspect Paul Schenk, law enforcement authorities and witnesses recounted witnessing the violent head-on crash and responding to the scene. 

Schenk is facing several charges in the death of 21-year-old Racheal Guarneros-Callahan, 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. He previously pleaded not guilty.

Sandra Khoury, the victim's sister, recalled that the day of the crash, the family was waiting for an emergency helicopter to airlift their loved one to the hospital. 

Khoury said they finally realized Mercy Air was not coming -- because her sister had already died. 

"I think just reliving everything," she said. "Just remember being on the side of that road, and seeing those cars up there. It's like, this is not going to be over until it's over."

The crash happened on Sept. 12 when Schenk picked up his 5-year-old and 4-year-old from school, Deputy District Attorney Callie 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, according to Bright. 

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 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.

"She was just a beautiful person," Khoury recalled. "She just had a big heart and just doted on her family. My daughter, her niece, and her other best friends. So it's just a huge hurt."

A San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy happened to hear the crash come over his radio on his way to another call and was the first on scene. He got out and went to Guarneros-Callahan's car first, worried it may burst into flames 

"I jumped in the backseat and pulled her seat belt off, and that's when I noticed the steering wheel was wedged in her chest," the officer testified. 

When he went around to the Ford involved in the crash, he found the driver wedged between the seat and steering wheel. 

"He just kept saying, 'I messed up,'" the officer recalled during testimony. 

CHP Officer Brian Kattke, who responded to the crash soon after, said that when he first arrived on scene, he spoke to Schenk, who he identified as the driver in court.

"His first statement to me though was a question," Kattke testified. "He asked, "am I going to jail?'"

Kattke said he did not respond, but the question lead him toward a different path in his further questioning and investigations: that some other factor may have been involved in the crash besides driver's error. 

When he returned to get a more detailed statement later, Kattke testified that he could smell alcohol coming from Schenk from two to three feet away. 

"At that time I noticed his eyes were red, I could smell some alcohol in his breath," Kattke testified. "I then asked him if he had been drinking alcohol, and he replied, 'yes.'"

Schenk's attorney, Paul Pfingst, has 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 has argued.

However, the victim's family told NBC 7 that's an excuse that means nothing to the family. 

Six days before the crash, Schenk went to VA Hospital in San Diego asking for help, but was turned away, according to Pfingst. 

"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," a partial statement from the VA San Diego read.  

The 4-year-old involved in the crash 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.

Bail was previously set at $2 million.

A judge will decide after hearing testimony at the preliminary hearing if the case should go to trial.  

If convicted, Schenk could face 18 years in prison. 

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