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Ventura County

No Contest Plea in Crash That Killed 2 Teenagers

September 25, 2002|JESSICA BLANCHARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A 20-year-old Oxnard College student pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges of vehicular manslaughter involving a car accident that killed two teenage friends.

Sopheak "Sophie" Riem spoke little during the afternoon hearing, except to quietly answer yes or no to Ventura County Superior Court Judge Edward Brodie's questions.

Riem, who was behind the wheel during the June 11, 2001, crash, faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22.

Her attorney said she is unlikely to receive the maximum sentence. "I don't think they're trying to make an example of her," said Deputy Public Defender Leslie Daniels. "But if they are, it's a quiet lesson."

Riem and her two passengers were going to a friend's high school graduation ceremony in Ventura. Prosecutors allege that Riem was speeding and may have made an unsafe lane change that caused her to lose control of her Nissan Maxima at the northbound Johnson Drive overpass on the Ventura Freeway.

Her car slammed into a metal guardrail, skidded off the freeway and landed upside down on nearby railroad tracks, killing Ana Rosa Uribe, 17, a student at El Camino High School in Ventura, who was riding in the back seat.

A second passenger, Lea Casillas, 16, a standout softball player at Buena High School, suffered skull fractures and internal injuries and died later that day at a hospital.

Riem was hospitalized with numerous injuries, including a fractured collarbone, a punctured lung, a lacerated liver and abrasions that required plastic surgery. All three teens had been wearing seat belts.

"She nearly died herself," Daniels said of Riem. "Considering her injuries, she's lucky to be alive."

The parents of Uribe and Casillas have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state, alleging that it failed to maintain the metal guardrail, which in turn failed to keep the car from plunging over the side of the overpass.

A jury trial in that case is scheduled for Feb. 24.

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