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Woman Guilty of 2 Racing Deaths

San Clemente resident, 19, faces up to 12 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence in 2001 case.

August 12, 2003|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

A 19-year-old San Clemente woman was found guilty Monday of killing two men during a November 2001 drag race, a verdict that could carry up to 12 years in prison.

Erin Gormley wiped away tears as the guilty verdicts were read: two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, felony driving under the influence of alcohol, engaging in a speed contest and speeding.

Gormley is free on bail until her sentencing Oct. 10.

The case, heard before Superior Court Judge James P. Marion, turned on the jury believing that Gormley was impaired by what attorneys said were three swallows of rum and three puffs of marijuana more than an hour before she raced a black Mustang on Pacific Coast Highway and Del Obispo Street in Dana Point, said juror Allen Gross, 46, of Garden Grove.

Traveling at 75 mph, Gormley's yellow Mustang slammed into a van that was making a left turn.

The van tipped over and burst into flames, killing Raymond Scott Shelly, 40, and Jose Valverde, 47, and producing enough heat to drive back witnesses who tried to help, authorities said.

Tests taken at the hospital afterward, Deputy Dist. Atty. Colleen Crommett told the jury, showed that Gormley had a 0.05% alcohol level, enough to impair her judgment.

Shelly, the van's driver, had a 0.03% alcohol level and tested positive for cocaine and methamphetamine. During closing arguments, Gormley's lawyer, Allan H. Stokke, contended that Shelly had failed to stop before he pulled into traffic, causing the accident.

The Thanksgiving-weekend incident highlighted the problem of youth street racing. The driver of the black Mustang fled and has not been found.

The jury deliberated about two days, and "it was back and forth," Gross said. Two or three jurors, he said, wanted to convict Gormley of a lesser charge, such as gross vehicular manslaughter.

"We all felt sorry for her, and we still do -- being so young and doing a stupid thing," he said.

But, he said, the jury decided that Gormley still had a duty to drive responsibly.

Crommett and Stokke were both out of town Monday and sent colleagues to court. Calls to the district attorney and Stokke were not returned.

Like the Gormleys, the families of the victims held hands and cried as the verdicts ending the three-week trial were read.

Shelly's family, holding pictures and buttons with his image, called "Thank you" to jurors outside the courtroom. "My brother was no angel," said William Shelly, 34, of Huntington Beach, "but he didn't deserve to die because he made a left-hand turn in front of someone."

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