Speeding motorist sentenced in Route 67 crash that killed 25-year-old mother
Saying he “cannot in good conscience grant probation,” a judge on Tuesday sentenced a motorist to four years in state prison for driving between 83 mph and 95 mph, causing a crash that killed a former Ramona mother on state Route 67 near Quail Rock Road in Ramona.
Excessive speed by Melvin Leroy Pearles, 49, not alcohol or drugs, caused the death of Alexandria McKiernan-Drake, 25, who was killed on March 29, 2009. Her then 1-month old baby, who was in a car seat in the back seat, survived and was not injured.
Every seat in the courtroom was filled, with reporters sitting in the jury box and about 15 people standing at the entrance to hear the emotional stories of how the victim’s husband, parents and others were affected by her death. El Cajon Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh denied the defense lawyer’s bid for probation and gave Pearles credit for 117 days already spent in jail.
Pearles, of Ranchita, had been free on $50,000 bond, but was handcuffed and taken into custody immediately after the sentencing. His 49th birthday is today. Pearles was fined $1,014, and Deddeh said he would take up restitution at a later hearing if the victim’s family requests it.
Jay Drake, the victim’s husband, wept as he read a statement of how “March 29, 2009, was the day that would change my life forever.”
“I feel alone, sad and depressed. Most days I manage…I still can’t watch certain movies without falling apart,” said Jay Drake. “Alexandria came out of the blue to me. She completed me.”
Drake said his wife was his best friend.
“In losing Alex, I didn’t just a lose a wife,” he said. “Her life was taken because (Pearles) chose to be reckless.”
The couple had moved to Chula Vista where Jay Drake worked at Home Depot, but Alexandria McKiernan-Drake had spent most of her life in Ramona, where her parents live.
Attorney Vincent Bartolotta Jr., who represents the victim’s parents and family, told reporters afterward he will be filing a wrongful death suit against the state of California for the road conditions of Route 67. He said there have been 900 accidents on the section of Route 67 between Ramona and El Cajon and the state has failed to make it safer.
“This road is a death alley,” said Bartolotta.
The victim’s mother, Pamela McKiernan, told the judge she was driving in front of her daughter’s car that day and told Pearles “your reckless disregard for the law…is why we’re here today.”
Pamela McKiernan said Pearles’ vehicle struck her car first and then crashed into her daughter’s car. She cited all the broken bones and trauma her daughter suffered, including multiple skull fractures, liver and heart lacerations, and brain injuries. She said her daughter lived only five hours after the crash and died at a hospital.
Pearles pleaded guilty Feb. 8 to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, and faced a maximum six-year term, which was sought by Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle.
Dawn Beebee, Pearles’ attorney, said a white BMW had been driving too fast behind Pearles and her client “felt he was being chased up the highway” by that driver, who has never been found. She said the BMW was “road raging him,” and said Pearles was “certainly not racing” with him.
Beebee also faulted the road conditions of state Route 67 where two eastbound lanes merge into one. She said Pearles suffered nine broken ribs, a broken clavicle and other injuries. Pearles told a California Highway Patrol office he drove so fast because “I had to pee.”
Pearles wiped his eyes with tissues and softly cried during the sentencing. He did not say anything in court, but two friends testified he is remorseful. Pearles had no prior record.
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