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Schoolgirls' Deaths Lead to Charges

October 03, 2002|STANLEY ALLISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A woman whose car struck and killed two schoolgirls in March when she hit the gas pedal instead of the brake was charged with misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter Wednesday by the Anaheim city attorney's office.

A judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Juarez, 50, who could not be found at her last known address in Anaheim.

The accident occurred March 12 in a congested pickup and drop-off zone in front of Centralia Elementary School as children left for the day. Juarez told police that she had picked up her two grandchildren and was leaving when she mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal.

Second-grader Bianca Perez, 7, of Buena Park and first-grader Nidia "Liz" Curiel, 6, of Anaheim, died after being pinned against a wall by the car.

The Orange County district attorney's office announced in April that it would not pursue felony charges against Juarez because she was not grossly negligent. Key factors that would have prompted felony charges are speeding or driving under the influence.

The criminal prosecution division of the Anaheim city attorney's office now has jurisdiction.

John Nicoletti, a city spokesman, said e the charges were filed now because a California Highway Patrol officer, who will be a key witness, was unable to testify earlier because of injuries he suffered during the summer.

Juarez was also charged with driving on a sidewalk, unsafe movement and unsafe speed. If convicted, she faces a maximum of two years in jail.

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