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Attorney Says Crash Victim Is to Blame

San Clemente woman on trial in Dana Point drag-racing fatalities was cut off, her lawyer says.

August 08, 2003|Denise M. Bonilla | Times Staff Writer

In closing arguments to a jury Thursday, the attorney for a San Clemente woman accused of killing two men during a drag race sought to blame the driver of the car she hit.

Erin Gormley, 19, is charged with two counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Raymond Scott Shelly, 40, and Jose Valverde, 47, during a November 2001 street race. If convicted on both counts, Gormley faces a maximum of 20 years in state prison.

According to prosecutors, Gormley, driving a yellow Mustang, was traveling at 75 mph in a race with a black Mustang that began at Pacific Coast Highway and Del Obispo Avenue in Dana Point.

The race ended less than half a mile away when Gormley's car slammed into Shelly's van as he attempted to make a left turn in front of her. The van was knocked over on its side and burst into flames, burning Shelly and Valverde alive. The driver of the other Mustang fled and has not been found.

The 3-week trial, held before Judge James P. Marion, presented experts from both sides debating Gormley's alcohol level at the time of the accident and its possible effect on her driving.

According to Gormley's attorney, Allan H. Stokke, Gormley has admitted she drank three "swallows" of rum and took three "puffs" of marijuana more than an hour before getting behind the wheel. But her driving judgment was not impaired, Stokke said.

In his closing remarks, Stokke argued that Gormley's drinking was not the cause and that the accident resulted from Shelly, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, failing to stop before he pulled out. Gormley's blood tests at the hospital showed a .05% alcohol level. Shelly, who also tested positive for cocaine and methamphetamine, had a .03% alcohol level.

"She was not the direct cause of the deaths," he said outside the court. "The primary cause of this accident was Shelly ... pulling out in front of her and violating her right of way."

In his remarks to the jury, Stokke portrayed Gormley as a teen who made a bad decision to drag race one night.

During her remarks, Deputy Dist. Atty. Colleen Crommett called Stokke's attempt to make Gormley appear an innocent teenager a "blatant sympathy ploy." She painted Gormley as vain and disinterested in the two victims, never inquiring as to their status after being taken to the hospital.

"This is the same crying, traumatized woman who, one of the first things she asked the nurses for was a mirror so she could look at her face," Crommett told the jury.

The prosecutor said blood tests taken after the accident confirm the teen was under the influence.

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