Driver said he drank 4 to 5 shots before Halloween crash that killed family, warrant alleges

A 20-year-old driver quickly admitted to being drunk in the aftermath of a crash that killed a beloved Long Beach family on Halloween night, according to newly revealed court documents.

The driver, Carlo Navarro, said he’d taken four to five shots of Jack Daniel’s before getting behind the wheel and crashing into a young couple walking with their 3-year-old son near Los Cerritos Park, police say in a search warrant filed late last month.

Police submitted the warrant on Nov. 25, asking a judge for permission to search Navarro’s cell phone and impounded car to help build their case against him. Navarro has been charged with three counts of murder and three counts of vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of 30-year-old Joseph Awaida, his 32-year-old wife Raihan Dakhil and their son, Omar.

Joseph Awaida, his wife, Raihan Dakhil, and son, Omar. Courtesy Cecilia Ramos.

Joseph Awaida, his wife, Raihan Dakhil, and son, Omar. Courtesy Cecilia Ramos.

The family had just left a relative’s Halloween gathering and were walking home when a black Toyota Sequoia jumped the curb and ran into them around 10 p.m. The warrant reveals new information about the crash, including that police believe the SUV was traveling at least 71 mph when it hit the Awaida family.

Navarro couldn’t remember how fast he was going, but he admitted he was responsible, telling a police officer “I was drunk and driving and I hit someone,” according to the warrant, which was written by a traffic collision detective.

The detective wrote that Navarro “said he consumed 4-5 ‘shots’ of Jack Daniels prior to the traffic collision and was driving his vehicle to Los Cerritos Park to continue partying with his friends.”

Until now, police hadn’t revealed how much they suspected Navarro had been drinking. Navarro’s lawyer, Bryan Schroeder, has said his client’s blood-alcohol level was measured at .11 a few hours after the crash.

However, when exactly Navarro allegedly took the shots may be critical to the case against him.

Schroeder said Navarro was drinking right up until the moment he started driving. He argued that means Navarro’s blood-alcohol level likely was below .08 at the time of the crash and peaked around .11 hours later. When police later took a second measurement, Navarro’s blood-alcohol level had declined to .07, according to Schroeder.

Hundreds of people gather around a memorial for a vigil for Joseph Awaida, Raihan Dakhil and their 3-year-old son, Omar. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

What police find on Navarro’s cell phone could also be important to the case.

To win a murder conviction against Navarro, prosecutors would have to prove he knew how dangerous it was for him to get behind the wheel after drinking but chose to disregard the risks, according to legal experts.

Schroeder argued Navarro is inexperienced with alcohol.

“He has no appreciation or understanding of it,” said Schroeder, who alleged the owner of a local liquor store gave Navarro the bottle of Jack Daniel’s for free. Navarro was immediately apologetic after the crash, Schroeder said.

If Navarro is acquitted of murder, he could still be convicted of the lesser charge of vehicular manslaughter, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars as opposed to 15 to life for murder.

If convicted of all six charges against him, Navarro could be sentenced to a maximum of 45 years to life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in jail without bail.

According to Joseph Awaida’s aunt Cecilia Ramos, her family is pleased the justice system is taking the allegations against Navarro so seriously, but nothing will bring back her loved ones.

“The only thing we feel is sadness,” she said last month.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.