Driver accused in suspected DUI crash that killed 2 pleads not guilty to murder, other charges

EL CAJON, Calif. - A man who was allegedly drunk when he lost control of his car, sending it off the freeway near Lakeside and killing two passengers, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and other charges.

Mario Alberto Carranza, whose arm was in a sling as he made his court appearance via video, was ordered held on $1 million bail.

Carranza, 26, was westbound on Interstate 8 near Lake Jennings Park Road about 7:30 a.m. last Saturday when his vehicle drifted into the center divider, according to the California Highway Patrol. He then overcorrected, and the car smashed through a chain-link fence before ending up in a concrete culvert, the CHP reported.

Two passengers, Monica Lupercio and Carlos Vargas, both 20 years old, were killed and Carranza was seriously injured.

"She used to give me kisses all the time in the morning, tell me, 'Mommy I love you,' and he took her away from me," cried Maribel Lupercio, Monica Lupercio's mother. "He killed her dreams, our dreams to make her grow up and see my grandkids, whatever was in her future."

The San Diego resident was taken to a hospital, where his blood-alcohol level was measured above .30 -- nearly four times higher than the legal limit, said Deputy District Attorney Douglas Rose.

He said the defendant -- who has a prior DUI conviction from 2007 -- faces 30 years to life in state prison if convicted of two counts each of second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter and DUI causing injury, along with one count of possession of cocaine.

Outside the courtroom, Rose spoke of the seriousness of the charges.

"In spite of those warnings, in spite of that acknowledgement, he chose to drive under the influence with a very high blood alcohol level and killed two people," Rose said.

Dozens of friends and family members of Carranza also showed up in court. They've set up a Go Fund Me account for Carranza to pay for his defense.

"It's irritating …," the sisters of Monica Lupercio said of the support for Carranza. "Apparently he hasn't learned. He's a selfish person, he's done it before, he's going to do it again."

A May 1 readiness conference is scheduled, along with a May 6 preliminary hearing.

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