Torrance, California (CNS) - A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who pleaded no contest to charges stemming from an off-duty crash in Torrance that killed his 23-year-old passenger and seriously injured two other people in the vehicle was sentenced on Friday to 13 years in prison.
Superior Court Judge Tony Cho ordered 25-year-old Daniel Manuel Auner to be taken into custody immediately after the sentence and he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Auner pleaded no contest on May 31 to one count of voluntary manslaughter, one count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
The charges stemmed from a crash that occurred just after midnight on July 8, 2020, which resulted in the death of 23-year-old Ashley Wells, who died from multiple traumatic injuries.
Initially, in May 2021, murder and reckless driving causing injury charges were filed. Those charges were dropped as a result of his plea.
Auner was driving at 116 miles per hour when his Dodge Charger collided with the center median, and the vehicle was going at least 71 miles per hour when it crashed into a traffic pole at the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and 190th Street, according to stipulations between the prosecution and defense during a December 2021 hearing where he was ordered to stand trial.
The other two young women in the vehicle suffered multiple injuries that resulted in one of them being hospitalized for 22 days and the other for 10 days, according to the stipulations.
"Of course, I don't feel any joy in seeing him go to jail," said Wells' mother, Lanora, to the judge. "It doesn't bring Ashley back."
She described her daughter, a graduate of Redondo Union High School, as "full of love" and said she had a "passion for life" and "made a difference in every life she touched."
Francyne Ferlazzo told the judge that she was there to tell the true story of "speeding, alcohol consumption, and reckless driving," and said her daughter, Sarina, and the young woman's friends met Auner that night in Hermosa Beach.
"They trust him because he said he was a police officer," she said, pointing out that her daughter suffered numerous injuries, including a fractured pelvis, and has been left with scars and deafness in one ear.
"I don't think David Auner even remembers Sarina. I want him to remember what he did," she said, telling the judge that she has seen no remorse and that it is now Auner's "turn to suffer."
Diane Kleen told the judge that her daughter, Lexi Benjamin, was conscious during and after the crash and suffered a shattered leg and other injuries that left her mother caring for her for a year after her release from the hospital. She said her daughter still suffers from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder and that the crash had a domino effect on others.
Auner remained with his head down as the victims' family members spoke.
The judge asked if Auner wanted to say anything before his sentence was imposed, but defense attorney Robert Ernenwein said his client did not wish to.
Auner was arrested by Torrance police in May 2021, a day before the criminal case against him was filed.
He remained in custody until he was released from jail on bail just over two weeks later and was given credit for 371 days already served due to his house arrest. He waived an additional 365 days of credit.
"We consider this a tragedy for both sides," said one of Auner's lawyers, Pat Carey, outside of court.
He said he hopes the guilty plea agreement and sentence bring some closure to the victims' families, along with Auner's family, who have also been suffering.
At a December 2021 hearing where Auner was ordered to stand trial, Torrance police Detective Robert Schuffman testified that he observed 398 feet of skid marks and subsequently concluded that the vehicle had been traveling at an "unsafe speed" on the street that has a posted speed limit of 45 mph.
A test performed on Auner's blood alcohol content approximately an hour and a half after the crash yielded a result of .077, according to a stipulation between the prosecution and defense. That is just below the level considered legally intoxicated.
One of Auner's attorneys told a judge at the 2021 hearing that "there was evidence of alcohol consumption but no evidence of intoxication," adding that "two officers concluded that the cause of the crash was unsafe speed and nothing else."
Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Miyata argued that Auner had an "aggravated awareness" of the dangers of alcohol consumption and speed due to his job and had been "drinking alcohol throughout the night."
Superior Court Judge Alan Honeycutt noted at the 2021 hearing that a law enforcement officer would have specialized training regarding alcohol and speed and said the evidence suggested that the defendant was "racing another vehicle."
Honeycutt added that testimony indicated Auner had disabled the safety systems in his "muscle car," which according to the detective would have prevented him from controlling the vehicle.
"It was a pretty chaotic scene," Torrance police Officer Brooks Wing, who responded to the crash scene, testified at the December 2021 hearing.
The officer told a judge that he spoke with Auner, who said he braked suddenly and lost control of the vehicle when caught off guard by the curve in the road ahead. The defendant, who had a cut on his forehead, said he was unsure of how fast he was driving, according to Wing.
The officer said he did not smell alcohol and focused his efforts on getting medical assistance for those in need.
"Auner's law enforcement powers have been suspended since July 2020" and he is currently "suspended from duty without pay," according to a statement issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on the day he pleaded guilty. His current status with the department was not immediately available.
Originally posted at Abogados de Accidentes