Man gets four years in SR-67 fatality
Saying “I cannot in good conscience grant probation,” a judge on March 30 sentenced a motorist to four years in state prison for driving between 83 mph and 95 mph, causing a crash that killed a 25-year-old 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 the 11:15 a.m. crash 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.
Deddeh said the California Highway Patrol estimated Pearles’ speed between 83 mph and 95 mph.
“That is very telling of his recklessness,” said Deddeh. “I cannot in good conscience grant him probation.”
Pearles, of Ranchita, had been free on $50,000 bond, but was handcuffed, and taken into custody immediately after the sentencing. 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 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,” said Drake. “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 spent most of her life in Ramona where her parents live. Home Depot gave orange ribbons to people at the sentencing.
Attorney Vincent Bartolotta Jr., who represents the victim’s parents and family, told reporters afterward that 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.
Some accidents occurred where two eastbound lanes merge into one, he said.
“This road is a death alley,” said Bartolotta, adding that the state has “failed to correct” road conditions.
The victim’s mother, Pamela McKiernan, told the judge she was driving the vehicle in front of her daughter’s car that day and told Pearles “your reckless disregard for the law…is why we’re here today.” McKiernan said Pearles’ Jaguar struck her car first and then crashed into her daughter’s car.
McKiernan cited all the broken bones and trauma her daughter suffered, including multiple skull fractures, lacerations to her liver and heart, and brain injuries. She said her daughter lived only five hours after the crash and died at a hospital.
“My daughter, she was my best friend. My heart has been ripped from me,” said McKiernan. “This pain, it’s so never ending.”
McKiernan said she still drives to San Diego daily on the same highway where the accident occurred, and it “fills me with dread” when she passes where the wreck occurred.
“You chose to break the law,” said McKiernan, pointing to Pearles and adding that she did not hate him. “Hate takes up time and I don’t want to waste time on you.”
The victim’s brother, Shannon Paul McKiernan Jr., 24, told the judge his last memories of his sister were of her in a casket and a body bag.
Pearles didn’t say anything in court, but he softly cried at times and frequently wiped his eyes with tissues. He 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. She said Pearles suffered nine broken ribs, a broken clavicle and other injuries. Pearles told a California Highway Patrol officer he drove so fast because “I had to pee.”
“He lives with remorse every day. He is as sorry as anyone could be,” said Thomas Markel, a friend of Pearles.
“Mel has never had an accident,” said another friend, George Adams, who described Pearles as “a very compassionate man.”
Adams faulted the driver of the white BMW as contributing to the accident. Adams urged the judge to grant probation, saying that Pearles could speak about traffic safety to high school students.
Pearles had no prior record.
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