Wreckage from from a DUI crash on Highway 154 in 2019 that sent several people to the hospital.
Former Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Lt. Javier Jonathan Antunez of Goleta faces six years in prison after pleading guilty to charges stemming from a DUI crash on Highway 154 in 2019 that sent several people to the hospital. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

A former lieutenant with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has pleaded guilty to charges related to a 2019 drunken-driving crash on Highway 154 that sent multiple people to the hospital.

Javier Jonathan Antunez of Goleta, now 46, changed his plea to guilty in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on March 29, and will return for sentencing in two months.

Then a lieutenant in the custody operations, Antunez was accused of causing the head-on crash involving three vehicles on Highway 154 on Sept. 14, 2019, near Lake Cachuma.

The California Highway Patrol said that Antunez was driving eastbound in a BMW with one passenger when the vehicle slammed head-on into a westbound Toyota Tacoma driven by Enrique Calderon-Mendez of Santa Barbara.

The driver of a third vehicle, a Santa Barbara woman at the wheel of a westbound Jeep, could not avoid the wreckage and struck the rear of the Toyota.

Six people, including Antunez, were transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment of various injuries following the crash, authorities said.

Judith Hall of Santa Barbara, a passenger in the Toyota, was airlifted by a Calstar medical helicopter to the hospital for treatment of major injuries.

Antunez and his passenger, Esther Emiko Trejo of Santa Barbara, also both suffered major injuries.

Two other passengers in the Toyota, Dolores Gutierrez and Evelia Dominguez, both of Santa Barbara, suffered moderate injuries. Calderon-Mendez, the driver, received minor injuries.

Antunez originally faced a felony charge of driving under the influence of alcohol, and felony driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or more, causing injury, in addition to an enhancement for causing great bodily injury to five other people, according the criminal complaint filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Under the agreement, Antunez pleaded guilty to felony driving under the influence causing injury, and admitted a great bodily injury sentencing enhancement, according to the California Attorney General’s Office.

The plea agreement calls for a sentence of six years in state prison, according to the Attorney General’s Office. 

Antunez was ordered to return to court for sentencing on May 24. 

Due to the sentencing enhancements, Antunez faced up to 16 years in prison, per charge, if convicted in this case, according to the criminal complaint.

The county District Attorney’s Office asked the Attorney General’s Office to handle the investigation and prosecution in this case to avoid the appearance of a possible conflict of interest, since an employee was one of the injured passengers.

Jonathan Kline from the Attorney General’s Office led the prosecution team while Antunez was represented by Josh Lynn. 

Hall worked as a District Attorney’s Office investigator. She also serves as a board member for the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

Additionally, Trejo reportedly has worked for the Santa Barbara County Probation Department.

Antunez had worked for the Sheriff’s Office since 1999, and was off-duty at the time of the collision, sheriff’s Lt. Erik Raney said in 2019.

After the crash, Antunez was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

He retired from the Sheriff’s Office in February 2020, spokeswoman Raquel Zick said Tuesday. 

In addition to the criminal charges, Antunez has been named in civil lawsuits stemming from the collision.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.