Sailor admits DUI in death of Valley Center couple on morning walk
Last Updated: 56 days ago
VISTA, Calif. - A 21-year-old Navy sailor who drove drunk and fatally struck a couple in their late 70s as they were taking their daily walk north of Valley Center pleaded guilty Wednesday to gross vehicular manslaughter.
Earl Decarlos Smith Jr. of Oceanside will be sentenced to 11 years in state prison at a hearing Dec. 18.
Smith pleaded guilty on the day his preliminary hearing was to go forward, also admitting a great bodily injury allegation.
The defendant was driving east on Old Castle Road about 6:15 a.m. on Sunday, July 7, when his 2011 Toyota Corolla drifted to the right and struck the retired schoolteachers as they walked with their backs to traffic near
Mauka Drive, according to the California Highway Patrol. Both victims died at the scene.
Neighbors said the victims -- 79-year-old Carl Henry Ackermann and his 78-year-old wife, Eunice -- had been taking a daily stroll down Old Castle Road for 30 years.
Smith's blood-alcohol content was 0.12 percent, above the legal limit of 0.08 percent for driving, said Deputy District Attorney Christy Bowles.
Bowles said the defendant was going 75 mph in a 55 mph zone and was distracted by his cellphone GPS when the accident occurred on the two-lane road, close to the Ackermann's home.
Smith told authorities he had been drinking in Fallbrook the night before the crash. He said he got lost on the way back to the freeway and ended up in Valley Center.
Bowles spoke to 10News outside the courtroom about the loving couple who died near their home of 30 years.
“He would always walk hand in hand with her and it was a beautiful thing and a tragedy really to have lost these two wonderful people and members of the community,” she said.
Bowles also spoke about the outpouring of love and support for the couple from the community and the couples’ families.
“Nothing will ever bring their loved ones back. What we do…is do the best we can and within the scope of what we can in criminal court and provide some kind of justice to them. They are still grieving and still hurting but they are appreciative that he is taking responsibility.”
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