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John Bisnar
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Two wrecks on the 5 Freeway leave one dead

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Lagnua Niguel man charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Two Orange County auto accidents, occurring nearly simultaneously about 11:15 p.m. Thursday, left one woman dead and four others injured – two critically – on the southbound San Diego (I-5) Freeway near the Alicia Parkway exit., the Orange County Register reported Friday.

The collisions, which the CHP is treating as unrelated, also led to the arrest of three of the drivers of the four vehicles. All are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. Two of the arrestees face felony charges.

Catherine Malloy, 72, of Philadelphia, died in the collision, the report said. She was pronounced dead at the scene by Orange County Fire Authority paramedics.

The blue Volvo in which Malloy was a passenger stopped along the freeway for unknown reasons, and then was hit from the rear by a Ford F-150 pickup in the same lane, CHP officials said. The driver of the pickup, Trevor Coffman, was taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo for treatment of major injuries, according CHP reports.

Coffman, 35, of Laguna Niguel, was later arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and vehicular manslaughter. The driver of the Volvo, Sally Howd, 76, of Dana Point, is reportedly in serious condition at Mission Hospital with major injuries. Her husband, Frank Howd, 82, got out of the rear passenger side of the Volvo shortly before the collision and was struck by the car while he was standing in the traffic lane. He is in critical condition.

Almost at the same moment, a white Infiniti driven by Eric Fuentes, 30, hit the right side of a black Toyota, deflecting the Toyota into the center divider, were it came to rest. Fuentes, of Laguna Beach, fled the scene of the accident and was later arrested at his residence under suspicion of felony hit-and-run and felony driving under the influence of alcohol, CHP reports said.

Fuentes is also held in the Intake and Release Center in Santa Ana in lieu of $100,000 bail. The driver of the Toyota, Michael Medina, 58, was taken to Mission Hospital for treatment of major injuries. He is listed in critical condition. Medina, of Rancho Santa Margarita, was also arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Traffic backed up for nearly three miles following the crash after CHP officials shut down all lanes of traffic for over 40 minutes following the crash, starting at 11:35 p.m., CHP officer Katrina Lundgren said.

And it’s not even St. Patrick’s Day yet! This is a horrible tragedy for the victim and her family. It was probably a rare coincidence that two simultaneous crashes involved so many suspected drunk drivers. It’s shameful.

People who drive under the influence pose a significant hazard on our roadways. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, about 40 percent of all traffic collisions in this state are alcohol-related. In Orange County there are at least six DUI-related injury traffic collisions every day.

I have no doubts in my mind that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is one of the worst forms of negligence. If you are impaired, take a cab.

Have a fun Saint Patrick’s Day celebration tomorrow. Please do not drink and then drive.

The three gentlemen arrested last night probably thought they were “OK” to drive. One of them is responsible for killing one person and seriously injuring two others. I’ll bet all three of them wish they had taken a cab home. If the three of them had taken cabs, one other person would still be alive and two others would not be injured. Drinking and driving isn’t worth it. Saving the cab money isn’t worth it.

I am sure when Mr. Coffman left wherever it was that he was drinking, he never thought he’d be arrested for manslaughter before the sun came up. Don’t drink and drive.

Maybe the Toyota and Nissan “anti-driving under the influence” auto equipment should be mandatory on all new automobiles. See my March 12th blog entitled “Cars Against Drunk Driving” for more information.