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Driver Found Not Guilty in Death of Santa Maria Teen

The driver of a vehicle that struck and killed a 15-year-old pedestrian 16 months ago in Santa Maria was acquitted of manslaughter charges on Friday.

Kelsi Lynn Sullivan, 23, was found not guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter by a Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury of six men and six women.

The verdict was read Friday afternoon in Judge Patricia Kelly’s courtroom.

Sullivan was charged in connection with an accident that resulted in the death of Leticia Hernandez Sanchez, as she crossed crossing Miller Street at Newlove Drive with her brother on June 29, 2013,

The pedestrians were in an unmarked crosswalk when the girl was hit by a 2000 Infiniti G20 traveling northbound on Miller, police said.

Leticia, a student at Santa Maria High School, was taken to Marian Regional Medical Center, where she later died of her injuries.

The girl’s brother, Lisandro Hernandez Sanchez, then 13, was not hurt.

Outside the courtroom, the defense attorney Tom Allen said he and his client were pleased by the not-guilty verdict, but noted the tragic loss of Leticia’s life.

“Even though the verdict ends the case, this experience isn’t going to end for either Leticia’s family or for Kelsi and her family,” Allen said. “It’s something that’s life altering for all of them.”

His client remained “emotionally distraught” by the tragedy, welling up with tears when he discussed aspects of incident with her. Sullivan had told him she regularly prays for Leticia, Allen added.

“There won’t be a day for the rest of her life that she won’t be thinking of her (Leticia),” Allen said. 

Testimony during the trial revealed that on the night of the accident, Sullivan had made a cell phone call that ended 40 to 49 seconds before Leticia was hit, according to Allen. But that call occurred before she turned onto Miller Street from Inger Drive, Allen said. 

Additionally, evidence showed Sullivan was driving at the 40 mph speed limit or slightly slower.

Although the prosecution attempted to blame distracted or inattentive driving, Allen said there was no evidence to support that.

At the time of the accident, the area along Miller used low-pressure sodium vapor street lights, giving off a yellowish tinge. 

“Under those yellow lights, that’s a dark area,” Allen said.

They have since been changed to LED lights, under a city program designed to save energy and reduce maintenance costs.

Allen noted that during a police re-enactment, an officer driving the car said he could barely see the Police Explorers portraying the accident victim and her brother.

“I think that was pretty compelling evidence,” Allen added.

Leticia’s family wasn’t available to comment on the verdict.

Deputy District Attorney Mei Trieu prosecuted the case.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the family,” Trieu said. “This was a difficult case, and a young life was lost.”

Although the criminal case is over, a civil lawsuit remains. Nearly six week after the girl’s death, Leticia’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Sullivan.

Other defendents reportedly include the car's owner and the city of Santa Maria.

A case management conference for the civil lawsuit is scheduled for Nov. 18 before Judge Timothy Staffel.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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