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Ventura Man Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Double-Fatal Gibraltar Crash

Brandon Woodward pled guilty to 2 counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in deaths of Lesli Michael Sandoval Nunez and Lily Afton Brennan

Emergency responders at Gibraltar Road crash scene. Click to view larger
Emergency responders transport Gibraltar Road crash victims to the hospital on June 26, 2017.  (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk file photo)
Brandon Woodward booking photo Click to view larger
Brandon Woodward

A Ventura man who crashed his vehicle off the side of Gibraltar Road in 2017, killing two passengers and seriously injuring a third, has been sentenced to 12 years in state prison after emotional testimony from the victims’ families.

Brandon Woodward, 21, was driving down the windy mountain road on June 26, 2017, with four passengers: his girlfriend to whom he’s just proposed, then-16-year-old Jadyn Peterson, and friends Lily Afton Brennan, 17, Lesli Michael Sandoval Nunez, 19, and Dalton Murrieta, who was 19 at the time.

Prosecutor Kevin Weichbrod said during a Jan. 31 sentencing hearing in Santa Barbara Superior Court that Woodward had proposed to Peterson that day, and the group went to La Cumbre Peak, drank, and then he drove down the road after sunset.

At about 9:30 p.m., the vehicle plunged down a steep hillside, rolling several times before landing on its roof about 300 feet below the roadway, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Brennan and Nunez were declared dead at the scene.

Peterson – whose name was not released at the time since she was a minor – and Woodward were transported to the hospital with major injuries.

Murrieta had minor injuries and had called 9-1-1, as did witnesses to the crash, Weichbrod said.

Woodward entered a plea agreement late last year, pleading guilty to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and driving under the influence causing injury.

Other counts (attempting to dissuade a witness) and allegations (great bodily injury, multiple victims) were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

The agreement allowed the judge to sentence Woodward to state prison, for a term between 4 years and 12 years, 8 months, and Superior Court Judge Von Deroian sentenced him to 12 years.

Weichbrod said Woodward, who was 19 at the time, had purchased alcohol at Log Cabin Liquor in Ventura and provided it to the group. Woodward admitting to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher in the plea agreement.

Weichbrod said during the sentencing hearing that Nunez was a Ventura High School graduate who was living in Los Angeles and working as a waitress. She was about to start Ventura College when the crash happened.

“She is a 19-year-old girl with her whole life ahead of her,” he said, according to the hearing transcript.

Her family was not present in court because they were worried about their immigration status, he told the court.

Brennan’s brother, Sean, spoke during the sentencing hearing, and said his sister had recently graduated from Saint Bonaventure High School and was interested in studying psychology and therapy.

“She wanted to help others get through bad times,” he said. "Lily had her share of bad times as well. Our mom passed away when she was just 16. And she wanted to help others get through the pain she had experienced herself."

Woodward made a conscious decision to drink and then drive down Gibraltar Road that night, “a road that makes sober drivers anxious,” even knowing the risk to his passengers, Sean Brennan said.

He asked the court for the maximum sentence.

“It’s been a rough 19 months for my family and me,” he said, adding that he was thankful the case was nearly concluded and justice would be served.

Gwendolyn Peterson, Jadyn Peterson’s grandmother and legal guardian, talked about getting “the phone call no parent wants to get” after the accident, when she was taken to the hospital.

Peterson had dreamed of becoming a hairstylist and special effects makeup artist after getting her high school diploma, she said.

Peterson and Woodward had been dating for 14 months, and he proposed that day, and Peterson said yes, Gwendolyn Peterson said.

“On that date, all her dreams were shattered, along with her spine, her leg, her collarbone.”

Peterson was flown to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for back surgeries, and her grandmother recalled trying to keep Woodward from calling.

He got through one time, and told Peterson not to talk about the accident.

Peterson had a panic attack, her heart rate skyrocketed due to her medications, and she briefly stopped breathing, her grandmother recalled.

The family later got a restraining order against Woodward, she said.

Her granddaughter wanted to go to a normal high school in 2018, but her injuries make it impossible to stand or sit for a long time.

Peterson had anxiety before the accident, but now has post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, depression and flashbacks to the accident.

“Now we deal with PTSD on top of everything else,” Gwendolyn Peterson said. “You can never tell where it’s coming from. It kind of comes out of nowhere. I liken it to living under a circus tent, and the music keeps going ‘Tadah.’ And you’re just sitting there, waiting for what’s going to happen next.”

Jadyn Peterson also spoke in court, and talked about how much that accident took from her.

“That day was supposed to be an adventure with good vibes and great company. It was till later that day,” she said. “Lily had gotten an email that she was accepted to be a paid model for one of her favorite clothing brands. I had also gotten proposed to by Brandon that day. So many good things happened until we tried to go home.”

In addition to physical therapy and pain since the accident, her mental state has gotten worse, she said.

“I was really broken beforehand, but now I am beyond shattered. I am beyond shattered in every way possible, and so are my dreams,” she said.  

When the car stopped rolling down the cliff, she climbed to the backseat, holding her gashed forearm together, to make sure her best friend, Lily Brennan, was all right. Peterson said she felt like there was nothing she could do.

“My dreams are gone, but I will not let this break me down any longer,” she said in court. “I fought for my life, and I’m going to live it out like I should, because that’s for damn sure that I’m not the same girl from that night. And I am stronger now than I’ve ever been before, and I will not let what happened haunt me anymore.”

Woodward spoke briefly in court, saying he takes full responsibility for the crash and would take the night back if he could.

“It is hard for me to talk about it because it hurts me so badly to know that Lily and Lesli died because of me, and that Jadyn was seriously hurt because of me. I live with the guilt every day,” he said.  

“I’m not sorry for what’s going to happen to me, but I am sorry for my actions and everybody’s losses.”

Deroian sentenced him to 12 years in state prison, and said he will still be a young man when he gets out.

“You have a light at the end of the tunnel, unlike the two victims in this case, who don’t,” she said.

Woodward was taken into County Jail custody after the sentencing. He had credit for 29 days time served, and had been out of custody for most of the period following the crash.

“This is a tragedy for everybody involved,” Deroian said. “And I wish that people could see what happens when people drink, use drugs, get in a car and drive. Two young women are dead, needlessly. The family of these women will never be the same.

"I think Ms. Gwendolyn Peterson’s statement, that the day that you drove off that cliff you took five families with you – nothing could be more true. The impacts of these two young women, their deaths, will never go away. It will follow the family forever,” she said.

Court documents show that members of the Peterson and Brennan families filed civil cases against Woodward and his parents, Richard and Teresa Woodward of Ventura, related to the crash. Both cases have been settled.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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