Bani Duarte, 28, of San Clemente has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder in a March 29 crash in Huntington Beach that killed three Las Vegas teenagers and injured a fourth.
An Orange County judge ruled that there is enough evidence to hold the 28- year-old women for trial on charges of a murder and drinking under the influence in connection with the March crash in in Huntington Beach.
During a preliminary hearing, superior court judge Derek Johnson said, he was “struck by the statement from witnesses that Bani Duarte declined a ride from another driver before the fatal crash, despite later telling officers that she had ‘lots of problems with her vehicle.’”
Family and friends of the three teens that were killed in the crash —A. J. Rossi, 17, Brooke Hawley, 17, and Dylan Mack, 18 —applauded after Johnson delivered his ruling.
Duarte faces three counts of murder and one count of driving under the influence causing injury, along with sentencing enhancement on allegations of inflicting great bodily injury. She pleaded not guilty to all charges, according to Superior Court records.
Duarte’s defense attorney, Debra White, argued the murder charges should be dismissed. Prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to prove Duarte knew the risks of driving under the influence.
White said, “three men were following Duarte in a car and she was driving like someone was trying to get away from someone at the time of the crash.”
According to police, the men had called 911 to report Duarte as a possible drunk driver.
Duarte’s had an alcohol content of 0.28%, more than three time the legal limit. Huntington Beach police found a “partially empty” 1-ounce bottle of vodka in Duarte’s purse and her car contained an empty 24-ounce can of a malt beverage that its manufacturer says has 8% alcohol content.
Duarte’s Hyundai crashed into a Toyota containing the teenagers shortly after 1 a.m. on March 29 at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Magnolia Street in Huntington Beach. Three of the four teenagers inside, who were visiting Southern California from Las Vegas for spring break, were killed.
One of the teens, Alexis Vargas, survived the crash and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Duarte is in Orange County Jail with bail set at $4 million. Her next court appearance is scheduled for August 9.