A Santee woman who killed a man while driving drunk and on the wrong side of the road in a devastating 2018 crash was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison Friday.
Lauren Ashley Freeman pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI causing injury in July of this year.
On February 26, 2018, Freeman was driving along Interstate 8 where the freeway intersects with Interstate 5. She was on the wrong side of the roadway with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.28, according to a plea agreement. Freeman was 22 at the time of the crash.
It was just before 2 a.m. when Freeman and another woman – inside a blue Toyota Camry – collided with a Volkswagon Jetta. Inside the Jetta was 35-year-old Justin Callahan.
Hours after the crash, California Highway Patrol officers confirmed Justin Callahan had died from his injuries.
Freeman and her passenger sustained “serious injuries,” according to officials.
Due to the position of the vehicles after the collision, CHP investigators initially believed the victim, Justin Callahan, was at fault.
Justin Callahan’s family quickly protested the claims, saying, “It just didn’t make sense.”
“He clocked out (of work) at 1:30 a.m. There’s cameras there, they have him clocking out," said Tommy Villafranca, Justin Callahan's brother. "His boss saw him leave at 1:38 a.m. It takes a couple minutes to get to his car. It’s about a 14-minute drive to the point of impact, which is about exactly the time that he got there.”
Villafranca said the only scenario that makes sense was that Freeman was going the wrong way down I-8.
Months later, Freeman admitted she was responsible for the crash.
“This error in judgement has taken away Justin, the person you all dearly love, and I will never be able to apologize for my actions that night,” Freeman said in court Friday. “I wish I could do anything to take it back. I'm sorry. And I'm sorry to all of you.”
Justin Callahan's parents were present for Freeman’s sentencing.
“I have very little peace and joy and laughter. And when I do laugh, I feel guilty, because I should be. He's not here,” Justin Callahan’s mother, America Callahan, said.
America Callahan said she forgave Freeman but that “the final judge is God.”
Freeman was sentenced to 11 years and eight months in prison. She has already served 379 days before her sentencing.
“I'm not happy with the plea bargain. I think that she should have more time behind bars, and the reason for that is she killed someone,” Justin Callahan’s father, Lowell Callahan, said.
Freeman’s father also spoke Friday, saying his daughter is a kind and caring person who made a terrible decision.