Trial for Driver Accused in Fatal DUI Crash Begins in Orange County

According to a recent story on the KFI AM Radio 640 website, the trial of a 31-year-old convicted DUI driver began in Santa Ana this week.

Louie Robert Villa is on trial for second-degree murder, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, and DUI with a blood alcohol level greater than 0.08 percent. Sentencing enhancements of inflicting great bodily injury and driving on a suspended or revoked license have also been applied. Villa has pleaded guilty to the latter charges.

Villa is accused of caused of causing the crash on July 30, 2020, that led to the death of longtime Orange County newspaper editor, 67-year-old Eugene Harbrecht.

The co-defendant in the case, Ricardo Tolento Navarro, 26, was allegedly street racing with Villa prior to the crash.

An eyewitness account and dashcam video indicate that Tolento was driving his Infiniti sedan at an average speed of 78 miles per hour in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. Investigators believe that Villa, driving a borrowed BMW, was traveling at an average speed of 86 miles per hour just before the fatal crash.

The crash involved the BMW and Harbrecht’s 2011 Ford Ranger pickup truck waiting at a red light. Almost immediately after impact, one of the vehicles burst into flame. A nearby resident used a garden hose to prevent the pickup truck from exploding.

Emergency crews arrived at the scene and rushed Harbrecht to an area hospital, where doctors declared him dead. 

A blood draw revealed that Villa had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. A second blood draw revealed that Villa had a BAC of 0.15 percent.

Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue told jurors that Villa “made some ridiculously bad choices” and that “Harbrechty did not have to die if not for the adrenalin rush of speeding.”

Public defender Stacy Kelly argues that while no one disputes that Harbrecht’s death was devastating, “it was not murder.”

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