Susan Luzzaro 9:45 p.m., June 18
Trial began this week for a 34-year-old woman who is charged with three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter resulting from a collision on the side of highway 78 more than two years ago.
Debbie Pacheco Sumi is accused of running her Jeep into a Nissan Altima which had pulled onto the shoulder of west-bound 78, near Sycamore Avenue. The driver of the Altima reportedly felt sick, according to a witness who survived the crash, and that woman pulled over and got out of the car on the side of the road.
Just after midnight, in the early morning minutes of August 13, 2010, a white Jeep Grand Cherokee slammed into the black Nissan at highway speeds, according to CHP officer Brent Twedt. Two persons of the four persons in the Nissan were killed, and one man in the Jeep died at the scene.
Susana Orozco and Erica Oliva, both 23, were the persons killed in or near the Nissan.
Officers said there were no skid marks, no signs of braking by the Jeep before the collision.
The Jeep tumbled down the highway, according to Officer Twedt, and ejected Debbie Pacheco Sumi out onto the highway, where she was later found, dazed but alive. The Jeep came to rest upside-down, on its roof. The one man in the Jeep, 34-year-old Larry Alvarez, was partially ejected out the windshield and trapped underneath. That 1994 Jeep was not equipped with air bags.
Twedt, who said he was the first officer on the scene, said the driver’s seat of the Jeep was adjusted for a “short stature” person. Debbie Pacheco Sumi is described as 4 feet 9 inches tall. The other occupant of the Jeep, her fiancé Larry Alvarez, was described as 5 feet 11.5 inches tall, by Dr. Craig Nelson, who performed the autopsy.
CHP officers claim that Debbie Pacheco Sumi admitted that she was the driver of the Jeep, that same night, at hospital. Her blood alcohol content was tested at hospital and found to be .348, according to prosecutor Jodi Breton. This level was declared “acute alcohol intoxication” and would cause unconsciousness in the average person, according to Breton. The legal standard for driving in California is typically something under .08.
Public defender Lindsay Itzhaki insists Debbie Pacheco Sumi was not driving the Jeep at the time of the collision. Defendant Sumi has been held in lieu of $5 million bail since her first court appearance.
The jury of 8 men and 4 women will continue to hear evidence next week, in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse.