A 20-year-old driver suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he allegedly killed a Long Beach couple and their 3-year-old son in a crash on Halloween could face charges ranging from manslaughter to murder, legal experts said.
Police said Carlo Navarro was behind the wheel of an SUV when he plowed into Joseph Awaida, 30, his wife Raihan Dakhil, 32, and their son Omar as the family was trick-or-treating in the Los Cerritos Park neighborhood on Thursday.
Awaida died shortly after the crash, while the son and mother died in the following days. Navarro was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter and was held in lieu of $100,000 bail. Court records show he was released from custody on Friday after posting bail. Bail agents in California typically charge around 10% of the total bail amount.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case and has yet to file charges. Legal experts on Monday said prosecutors will consider many factors when deciding the severity of the charges.
Under California law, a person who drives under the influence and kills someone can be charged with vehicular manslaughter or second-degree murder depending on the circumstances. Vehicular manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 10 years in custody, while second-degree murder carries a term of 15 years to life in prison.
California’s “Watson” law makes it easier to file second-degree murder charges against drivers who have prior DUI offenses, since they are required to sign documents acknowledging they are aware of the dangers of impaired driving.
Navarro doesn’t appear to have any prior DUI arrests, according to court records. But Long Beach’s 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who works as a prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, said Los Angeles County prosecutors could still choose to file murder charges depending on other factors.
Price is not involved in the Long Beach case but provided her legal expertise as a veteran prosecutor. She founded and shaped Orange County’s vehicular homicide unit and sits on the board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Having a prior (DUI) is not required for second-degree murder,” she said. “There are lots of other things they can consider.”
Price said prosecutors could consider whether the suspect was driving erratically, or whether others had warned him not to drive and he dismissed their attempts to stop him.
“Was he dismissive, were people basically begging the suspect not to drive and he demonstrated a conscious disregard for the risk?” she said. “Did he choose to take the risk knowing what the outcome would be?”
Interviews with the suspect will also be key as they could indicate whether he was consciously aware of the dangers of driving under the influence.
Price said she’s successfully prosecuted second-degree murder cases in which the defendants did not have prior DUI offenses, including a teenage minor and a former Marine who killed a prominent doctor in Newport Beach.
But the discretion, she said, lies with the L.A. District Attorney’s Office.
Some in the community have expressed outrage that Navarro was allowed to post bail. But Price noted that bail is a constitutional right, unless there are special circumstances such as a death penalty or life without parole case.
Price said prosecutors could ask a judge to increase the bail amount after Navarro is charged and arraigned.
As a longtime advocate for crime victims, Price said she feels the pain in her community.
“These incidents are so avoidable and we have every system in place now to help people choose a safe ride home, so when things like this happened, honestly, it’s maddening,” she said.
David Givot, a Long Beach defense lawyer who specializes in DUI cases, said Navarro will likely face significant time behind bars if he’s charged and convicted.
“It’s a tough time for the community right now, but I would say be patient, because the system is absolutely going to work,” he said. “Long Beach doesn’t mess around in the District’s Attorney Office. They take these cases very seriously, and this case is not going to go unattended.”
Navarro faced misdemeanor charges this year stemming from an incident on June 30 when police arrested him connection with a burglary at a business in the 900 block of E. 45th Street, according to the Long Beach Police Department.
The Long Beach City Prosecutor’s Office subsequently filed misdemeanor charges of burglary, vandalism and possession of burglary tools, police said.
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