EL CAJON, Calif. (CNS) — A Spring Valley man convicted of murder for crashing his car on state Route 94 while under the influence of drugs, killing one of his passengers, was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years to life in state prison.
Rene Ruiz, 30, was found guilty by an El Cajon jury for causing the Sept. 17, 2018, death of 24-year-old Melanie Alexandra Feliciano and injuring another passenger.
Prosecutors allege he was under the influence of methamphetamine and Xanax at the time of the crash. Ruiz was charged with murder due to a prior DUI conviction from 2011.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Ruiz was behind the wheel of an eastbound 1999 Mercedes-Benz sedan that veered off the freeway for unknown reasons around 2 p.m.
The vehicle crossed onto a dirt shoulder near Sweetwater Springs Boulevard, hit a guardrail, became airborne and overturned, CHP public affairs Officer Travis Garrow said. After tumbling side over side across the median, the car came to rest on its wheels on the center shoulder of westbound SR-94, its roof crushed.
Feliciano -- who at the time of the crash was seated, unrestrained, on the center console of the car, between the driver and passenger seats -- was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
CHP personnel and sheriff's deputies searched the area, finding Ruiz and his other passenger hiding in a canyon near the site of the wreck about 2:45 p.m., Garrow said. Medics took them to hospitals for treatment of serious injuries both had suffered in the crash.
At Ruiz's sentencing hearing, defense attorney Blair Soper said his client was remorseful and had a long history of battling drug addiction. Soper said Ruiz's passengers were much more intoxicated and that Ruiz mistakenly believed at the time that he was not unduly affected by the drugs he ingested, leading him to believe he was doing the right thing by driving the two passengers.