A 21-year-old man suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol when he slammed head-on into a car carrying a family of five on Interstate 15 was arraigned in the hospital Wednesday.
Shane McDonald, with his right leg and left wrist bandaged, pleaded not guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and five counts of felony DUI causing injury or death in connection with the May 2 wrong-way crash that killed two members of a family and injured three others near Scripps Ranch.
A judge set McDonald’s bail at $500,000. He is from Guam and was also ordered to surrender his passport and ordered not to drink or drive.
The defendant’s mother and father flew in from Guam following the deadly crash, and his mother was at his side during the hospital bed arraignment.
McDonald’s defense attorney Lindsey Mercer said McDonald is a student and “rarely drinks.” She said the suspect and his family are heartbroken and devastated for all involved.
"I'm sure the public can imagine the grief they are going through right now," said Mercer, "for everyone that passed away in this accident, for those injured. Their hearts and prayers are with the families involved and have asked us to let them know that."
The Deputy District Attorney on the case said McDonald nearly wiped out an entire family within a matter of seconds.
According to CHP officials, the deadly crash happened around 3:10 a.m. on southbound I-15 north of Mira Mesa Boulevard.
The CHP said McDonald was driving his black Audi A4 in the wrong direction in the express lanes of the freeway when he collided head-on with the Honda Civic carrying five people.
The Honda Civic changed lanes to avoid the collision with the wrong-way driver, but the wrong-way driver simultaneously did the same maneuver and the vehicles collided head-on.
The CHP said the Honda Civic came to rest in the freeway lane while the Audi was high-sided on the concrete barrier.
The impact was so strong, officials said, both the driver of the Honda Civic — 55-year-old Escondido resident Rodolfo De La Torre, 55, and his 84-year-old passenger Teresa Esparza Hernandez died at the scene.
Officials said at least one person was ejected from one of the mangled cars.
Meanwhile, fire crews had to pry out three more passengers from the back seat of the Honda Civic, De La Torre’s wife, Angelica, and their two children, Julio and Carolina, ages 21 and 19.
McDonald also had to be extricated from his car.
The De La Torre family told NBC 7 the surviving family members were taken to the ICU at Scripps La Jolla and the ICU at Sharp. Angelica and Julio suffered broken necks, head trauma and severe abdomen injuries from their seat belts. Carolina suffered broken ribs, broken clavicle and head trauma.
On Wednesday, the family confirmed all three survivors were still hospitalized and in stable condition.
The family was driving to the Tijuana airport to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Aguascalientes, Mexico, when they were hit by McDonald.
CHP officials said he admitted that he had smoked marijuana on the morning of the crash and had drank too much.
The driver, who has no previous criminal history, faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, community members will hold a fundraiser for the De La Torre family on Friday at a San Marcos Chick-fil-A located at 587 Grand Ave. from 4 p.m. through 7 p.m.