Driver in fatal University City crash says in court 'Apologize to the family for me'

Soranon Booppanon pleaded not guilty to crash

SAN DIEGO - A woman who was allegedly under the influence of a strong prescription medication at the time of a crash in University City that killed a 77-year-old man in another car pleaded not guilty Friday to gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI charges.

Soranon Booppanon, 39, was ordered held on $100,000 bail. She faces 15 years in prison if convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence of drugs.

Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey told Judge David Szumowski that Booppanon blew through a red light at Genesee Avenue while heading west on La Jolla Village Drive. Her vehicle hit a car, then slammed into a Volkswagen Golf, killing the 77-year-old driver, George Matteson of Pacific Beach, and seriously injuring his 74-year-old wife, the prosecutor said.

Booppanon's Prius also struck a Nissan truck.

Harvey said Booppanon was under "strong" prescription medications, and headed to the dentist, at the time of the 10:30 a.m. collision.

"It's our position the defendant was under the influence of very strong prescription medications at the time she was driving," said Harvey.

Deputy Public Defender Sal Tarantino told the judge that Booppanon spent 13 years in the Air Force and was being treated for injuries received while in the service, which included combat duty.

Tarantino said Booppanon -- who appeared in court in a wheelchair -- was also being treated for a viral infection.

"Apologize to the (victims') family for me," a tearful Booppanon said as she was led out of court.

Szumowski told Booppanon to contact her doctors so that the jail medical staff can treat her and give her the medications that she needs.

Booppanon holds a Ph.D. and is a management consultant and former professor, according to her LinkedIn page. Records obtained by 10News showed she owns at least five prior speeding tickets.

Matteson, who is retired, worked for more than three decades in San Diego Gas & Electric's engineering department. His wife, Betty, survived, but suffered serious injuries, including 14 broken bones. The couple was turning into UTC mall to go shoe shopping.

"I'm just in shock and miss him tremendously," said Teresa Grigg, Matteson's daughter.

"We are still grieving and haven't progressed beyond that at this time," said Sheila Matteson, another daughter.

Matteson's daughters said the grief is overwhelming. Betty Matteson is their stepmother.

"She's literally heartbroken. All she can do is talk about him," said Grigg.

Matteson's family, who weren't in the courtroom, told 10News they have no response to Booppanon's apology.

The judge scheduled a status conference for Oct. 30 and a preliminary hearing for Nov. 7.

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