FULLERTON — The district attorney's office Thursday charged a suspected drunk driver accused of killing a La Habra police officer with gross vehicular manslaughter instead of murder as requested by the officer's department.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Teresa Hicks said evidence from the fatal car crash on Halloween night did not indicate that 51-year-old Marco Villegas Ramirez acted with malice, a requirement for a murder charge.
"It's very unusual in any kind of drunk-driving situation to file homicide charges," Hicks said. "However, we looked at those charges, but we just didn't feel the evidence was there."
Officials with the La Habra Police Department, still grieving for Michael Anthony Osornio, 26, the only officer killed on duty in the city's 69-year history, said they were not disappointed with the decision. After a subsequent review of Ramirez's driving record, Capt. Terry M. Rammell said he agreed murder could not be proven.
"It appears to be the appropriate filing," said Rammell, who is supervising investigators probing the crash. "Within the short time span of the crime, we didn't have the information we obtained later."
Police arrested Ramirez on suspicion of murder Monday night after his car allegedly raced through a red light at approximately 60 m.p.h. and slammed into Osornio's cruiser at Beach and La Habra boulevards. Ramirez's blood-alcohol level later registered at .18, more than twice the legal limit of .08.
Officials said if the La Mirada sheet-metal worker had a history of drunk driving or had been warned Monday night not to drive, they could have charged Ramirez with the more serious crime. Records show that Ramirez received two traffic tickets--one for failure to signal in 1992 and one for speeding in September--and was involved in a car accident last year.
If convicted of the manslaughter charge, Ramirez could receive between four and 10 years in prison. A second-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of 15 years to life.
Officials expect Ramirez, who remains hospitalized at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, to be arraigned early next week.
Osornio's family members declined to comment on the district attorney's action. The officer had joined the La Habra Police Department 14 months ago and became engaged to his high school sweetheart just two weeks before the collision that took his life.
Sympathy cards and flowers continued to pour into the La Habra Police Department Thursday and donations also streamed in to a memorial fund for Osornio, officials said. Contributions may be sent to the Michael Osornio Memorial Fund, Sanwa Bank, 2015 W. La Habra Blvd., La Habra.
"We are still getting a tremendous response from the public," said Rammell.
A public viewing is scheduled Friday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Calvary Golden Springs Chapel in Diamond Bar, with burial to follow at Rose Hills Memorial Park.