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2 Murder Charges Faced by Doctor in Drunk-Driving Case : Crime: Manslaughter charges are upgraded. The Laguna Beach physician had two earlier arrests.

July 24, 1993|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Murder charges were filed Friday against a Laguna Beach doctor accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs when he hit the car of a Mission Viejo family, killing the parents and critically injuring their daughter.

Prosecutors upgraded vehicular manslaughter charges against Dr. Ronald Joseph Allen to second-degree murder charges and added a felony charge of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and causing serious injury after they concluded that Allen was fully aware of the hazards of driving while impaired.

"Who else would know better about driving while using alcohol and drugs than a physician?" Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Molko said after Allen made a brief court appearance. The physician's medical background was a "significant factor" in the decision to file new charges, Molko said.

Allen, 31, looked haggard when he appeared in court. If convicted on the second-degree murder charges, the internist, who has a history of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol, could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on each count.

Deputy Public Defender Michael Giannini said his client is distraught over the July 11 collision that killed Mark and Noreen Minzey and critically injured their 11-year-old daughter, Karie, who is slowly recovering from her injuries.

The physician, who has reportedly attempted suicide in the past, is being held in protective custody to prevent him from harming himself, Giannini said.

"He is overwhelmingly remorseful," Giannini said, adding that Allen's depression is compounded by the "irrational" belief that he is also to blame for his father's death in Illinois just a few hours before the crash.

The case has gained widespread attention since it was revealed that before the fatal crash, Allen had been arrested twice on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

An outstanding warrant for Allen's arrest stemming from a 1992 drunk driving incident was not uncovered when police arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence, hit-and-run and resisting arrest on June 1, and again when he was stopped for speeding only hours before the fatal accident.

Further, state medical officials have acknowledged that they failed to act promptly after receiving a report that Allen's medical privileges had been suspended at South Coast Medical Center, where he was taken after his June 1 arrest.

At that time, according to police reports, Allen told hospital officials he had ingested a large quantity of drugs in an attempt to kill himself because he was distraught over his wife's death. Allen is not married.

Molko has refused to reveal preliminary results of drug and alcohol tests, but he said Allen was driving while impaired on the day of the crash.

Giannini, however, said Allen's blood-alcohol level at the time of the collision was between .03 and .05, well below the state legal limit of .08. Giannini had no details about Allen's suspected drug use, although the doctor had both fresh and old injection marks on his body at the time of his arrest.

Allen remains bewildered by the tragic turn his life has taken, according to his defense attorney. "He's absolutely in a state of moral shock," Giannini said.

Giannini said his client had recognized his alcohol-abuse problem before the crash and was receiving treatment through Alcoholics Anonymous.

"The death of his father is a major factor in this tragedy," he said, adding that the depressing nature of his medical work also led to his emotional problems.

Allen's father had recently visited his son and the two discussed Allen's plan to repay his parents for their financial help during college, medical school and his residency, Giannini said.

Allen felt "impotent that he couldn't just pay his father back these large sums of money . . . and then he gets a phone call, 'Your dad is dead,' " Giannini said. "It's irrational, but he . . . thinks he's responsible for his father's death."

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