Fifty-three-year-old Katherine Ann Heinzel, a former cop who was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, is due in San Diego Superior Court again on Monday, November 24.
Heinzel is said to have been a nine-year veteran with the Newport Beach police force, trained as an accident investigator. She he was involved in a fatal freeway collision in 2011. She did not testify at her first trial in late 2012, at the conclusion of which she was found guilty of three felonies: causing the death of one man and serious injury to two others.
In January 2013 she was sentenced to nine years prison, but in July of this year, Heinzel’s conviction was reversed for “instructional error”; the higher court found fault with a jury instruction regarding “gross vehicular manslaughter.”
In October of this year, Heinzel paid an $8000 fee to have a $100,000-bond posted. She is at liberty while awaiting her new trial, set for March 16.
Papers in her court file indicate that a previous defense attorney attempted to suppress evidence about blood drawn from Heinzel two hours after the collision. Results showed a .09 blood alcohol content; investigators later estimated her level to be .14 at the time of the fatal collision (.06 higher than the law allows), according to prosecutor Tracy Prior.
Among the detailed accusations in papers filed on November 7, the prosecutor claims that at 1:50 a.m. on November 19, 2011, Heinzel was driving a white Nissan Altima northbound on I-15 when she ran into the back of a blue 1992 Toyota. The three men in the Toyota all wore seatbelts, had not consumed alcohol, and were heading home to Perris, California, after visiting friends in Coronado. Heinzel later told a CHP officer that she was headed for her home in Winchester, about 30 miles away.
Investigators estimated Heinzel’s car was traveling between 91 to 101 mph and was straddling two lanes when it rammed the Toyota, reportedly going 58–68 mph. Both vehicles went through a guardrail and over a drop-off at the side of freeway, near the Old Highway 395 exit.
One of the passengers in the Toyota, Brian Morast, then 20, survived to tell jurors that their car repeatedly flipped front bumper to end bumper; after as many as ten revolutions, their car finally came to rest on its side. Morast suffered traumatic brain injury, two collapsed lungs, five broken ribs, and a spleen injury.
The other passenger in the Toyota, Kris Walker, then 19, survived a three-inch-deep gash in his head and was able to struggle back up the embankment. While he climbed, he came across Heinzel’s vehicle and saw the woman stuck between her seat and the steering wheel.
“Mr. Walker pulled defendant out of her burning car,” the prosecutor stated in court papers. “He saved her life, and the defendant’s car then went up in flames.”
The prosecutor claimed that Heinzel then “took off running” but other witnesses at the scene kept her at the side of the road until police arrived. One witness said that Heinzel kept saying she “had to go” or that she had to go “pick up her mother.”
When CHP officer Michael Zappia arrived, he reportedly found Heinzel near a guardrail, between some vehicles, and he noticed that she smelled of alcohol.
“She could not recall any details regarding the collision, where she was coming from, where she was going to, how she got to the scene, or who was travelling with her, if anyone. However, defendant was able to provide identifying information such as her friend’s name and recite her driver’s license number.”
Heinzel complained of pain and was transported to hospital after about five to seven minutes.
The driver of the Toyota, Daveionne Kelly, 20, was able to crawl out of his car, but died at the scene.
Heinzel is expected to be present for a “status conference” before judge Carlos Armour in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse on Monday morning, November 24.