A woman accused of crashing her SUV into Otay Lakes Reservoir while intoxicated, resulting in the deaths of her 5-year-old daughter and another 5-year-old girl, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to gross vehicular manslaughter and other charges.
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Arlene Anna Hernandez, 22, of Chula Vista, was ordered held on $400,000 bail. She faces 13 years in state prison if convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two counts each of felony child abuse and DUI causing injury, according to Deputy District Attorney Mary Loeb.
"The child abuse charges (are) for the defendant's conduct by putting her child, and this other child, in a situation where they were in danger of great bodily injury, and of course that's what happened here," Loeb said outside court.
The defendant's blood was drawn at the crime scene, but authorities are waiting for test results to determine her blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident, the prosecutor said.
Hernandez lost control of her Kia Sorento on eastbound Otay Lakes Road shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday. The vehicle tumbled down an embankment near Wueste Road, overturned, landed on its roof in the water and sank, California Highway Patrol Officer Omar Morales said.
Hernandez and a man in the front passenger seat extricated themselves, but Giuliana Figueroa of La Mesa and the defendant's daughter, Lesette Hernandez Silva, remained inside in the back seat until Border Patrol agents and several area residents pulled them out.
Border Patrol Agent Travis Creteau, who responded to the incident, said, "Someone says, 'There's a vehicle in the water and there's children inside
emotion takes over at that point."
"There is a car in there that I can't see with children in the back," Creteau said.
Creteau wasted no time diving into the murky water. Once in, he said getting the doors open was the hardest part.
"I felt what felt like a child's seat of some kind and then I felt an arm and it was in the seatbelt and I wasn't going to be able to figure out how to get that open in the moment so I pulled out my knife and I cut the seatbelt and I pulled the child out," said Creteau.
Creteau said he handed her off and then went back in for the other girl.
"After several attempts, I was able to feel hair above me and I didn't let go
her ankle was caught on something, I untangled her and came out," Creteau said.
Creteau administered CPR to one of the girls before they were airlifted to Rady Children's Hospital. Several hours later, he received the news that both had died.
"I needed to grab the wall ... my knees were giving out; it was tough," said Creteau. "I couldn't hold my [breath] long enough. I wanted to be able to stay down there longer. I couldn't
I did what I could."
According to the CHP, Giuliana Figueroa was the daughter of the front-seat male passenger.
The exact relationship between the defendant and her male passenger was not known, Loeb said.
South Bay Judge Katherine Bacal scheduled Aug. 16 readiness conference and Aug. 21 preliminary hearing dates. Friends and family of the defendant packed the courtroom for her arraignment. The mother of the other girl killed was also in attendance.
Defense attorney Jonathan Jordan told reporters after the arraignment, It's a very traumatic experience for her and both sides of the family. There's going to be a funeral and a viewing and Miss Hernandez is not going to be there. She's not in a good space. It's a hard realization about her circumstance and the result of what happened.
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