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Families Recall Three Young Lives Lost in Santa Barbara Crash

Emotional testimony comes during a court hearing for Kimberly Kreis, sentenced to a year in jail, three years of probation and 18 months of treatment

Cheryl Outlaw, mother of Danielle Murillo, a 17-year-old who was killed in a car crash last April on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, stands outside court on Tuesday with a photo of her and her daughter. Outlaw spoke at the sentencing of Kimberly Kreis. Click to view larger
Cheryl Outlaw, mother of Danielle Murillo, a 17-year-old who was killed in a car crash last April on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, stands outside court on Tuesday with a photo of her and her daughter. Outlaw spoke at the sentencing of Kimberly Kreis. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Kimberly Kreis was sentenced Tuesday to a year in County Jail, and was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution for her role in an accident on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara that killed three young people in April 2014. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Cheryl Outlaw recalled watching the front door of her Torrance home last April, waiting for her 17-year-old daughter, Danielle Murillo, to come home.

Danielle and her boyfriend, 20-year-old Erick August, had traveled north for a concert the night before with Danielle's best friend, Jessica Leffew, 17, and Leffew's boyfriend, Brian Lopez, 20.

All had been traveling together in the same red Mazda, Outlaw recalled as she spoke in Santa Barbara Superior Court on Tuesday.

Eventually, a knock on the door came, but it wasn't Danielle.

Instead, three Torrance police officers arrived to tell Outlaw that her daughter had perished in a vehicle accident, along with Leffew and Lopez.

"It was this mother's worst nightmare," she told Judge Clifford Anderson.

Tuesday was an opportunity for Outlaw and other family members to speak, and was also the sentencing hearing for Kimberly Kreis, who was arrested on suspicion of DUI after her car slammed into the overturned vehicle containing the four young people on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara on April 21.

Kreis suffered minor injuries, and was initially charged with felony gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, but an investigation by the California Highway Patrol resulted in different charges. 

Kreis was charged with misdemeanor driving while under the influence, misdemeanor possession of an instrument for the injection or smoking of a controlled substance, and misdemeanor driving while under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug.  

Court records show that Kreis has a history of substance abuse and had been in and out of rehab programs before facing a prison sentence.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office stated last year that August had fallen asleep at the wheel, causing the vehicle to go off the right shoulder, hit the guard rail, slide along the top of the guard rail, and eventually land upside down in the southbound lanes of Highway 101 near the Castillo Street exit. 

Within seconds, Kreis' vehicle slammed into the wreckage, according to authorities.

The CHP conducted an extensive investigation of the crash, but ultimately found that a sober person would likely have collided with the vehicle as well.

That meant authorities could not charge Kreis with felony manslaughter, even though she had alcohol and methamphetamine in her bloodstream at the time of the collision.

In December, Kreis pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor charges: possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, being under the influence of a controlled substance, and having drug paraphernalia in her vehicle.

Kreis had formerly been charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, but because of the passage of Prop. 47 last fall, which reduces most non-serious and non-violent property and drug crimes from felony to a misdemeanor, she was charged as such.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnie Tolks, who prosecuted the case, said that many defendants in the system are being re-sentenced as a result of Prop. 47's passage.

On Tuesday, Kreis was sentenced to 365 days in Santa Barbara County Jail, three years of probation, and 18 months in multiple-offender and clean-and-sober programs.  

Anderson will decide in two weeks the amount of restitution that Kreis will have to pay, and what kind of community service she will do during her 250 hours of required time.

The emotional nature of the case was also clear as Tolks spoke to the court, venting his frustration about the collision and the deaths that resulted.

"You're damn right, she's the cause of all this," prosecutor Arnie Tolks tells the court about Kimberly Kreis' role in a fatal accident on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Despite the results of the CHP investigation, Tolks said that Kreis made a decision that night to drive, even though she had been drinking alcohol and had methamphetamine in her system.

"She didn't brake," Tolks said, but rather crashed into the car going over 60 mph "while those three kids were still alive."

"You're damn right she's the cause of this," Tolks asserted.

Why Kreis was being put on probation was counterintuitive to Tolks, since she had already been that route with previous offenses.

"After 20 years, she still doesn't get it," he said.

Kreis' attorney, Bob Sanger, responded by issuing condolences to the victim's families.

He also said that in spite of Prop. 47, the laws on vehicular manslaughter have stayed the same.

"There has to be causation," he said. "That's not the case here."

The details of her sentencing came after raw, emotional testimony from the families of those who died in the crash.

Anderson's courtroom was packed with friends and family of the victims -- about 40 people -- who had driven up from the Los Angeles area, and many could be seen crying during the emotional statements.

Outlaw stated that her daughter, Danielle, had been just a month shy of her 18th birthday when the crash occurred.

"This girl had a future," she said, adding that Danielle had dreams of going to college and studying psychology.

"Ms. Kreis, you have taken all that away from me," she said. "My hopes, my dreams I had for Danielle are completely annihilated."

Jessica Leffew's grandmother, Linda Nava, also spoke to the court, recalling the pain of learning Jessica had been killed after being ejected from the car.  

"That hurt so bad," she told the court, adding that the family was in total disbelief.

Jessica Leffew and her boyfriend, Brian Lopez, were returning from a concert when they were killed in a crash on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara involving Kimberly Kreis, who was sentenced Tuesday. (Leffew family photo)

Omica Leffew-Jelsma, Jessica's mother, wrote in a statement that her daughter was "full of life," was on her way to becoming a nurse, and was at the top of her biology class. 

Jessica was enamored with Brian, "a young, gentle man who stole our hearts as well as my baby girl's."

Brian's father, Abel Lopez, told the court Brian had been "my only son," and through tears and with the help of an interpreter implored the judge.

"Your honor, is there justice? These charges are not just," he said.

Eric August, the 20-year-old driver who was the sole survivor from the Mazda, also spoke, visibly distraught.

August was in a coma for over a month and did not know his girlfriend had been killed until two months after the incident, Outlaw said earlier in the sentencing during her statement.

August said that he and the group had planned the trip for weeks, and that August had been the designated driver for the group.

"Why didn't [Kreis] take responsibility?" he asked. "I did. I was looking out for my girlfriend and her friends."

In a matter of minutes, his friends had perished.

"They meant everything to us," he said.

After hearing the testimony, Anderson decided that probation was appropriate in the case.

"For the safety of all of us who use the roads, it is worth a try to try and instill sobriety in Ms. Kreis," he said. "Hopefully, she's learned that lesson."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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