Man accused of killing a woman in DUI crash goes on trial

RIVERSIDE – A thrice-convicted drunken driver goes on trial today, accused of murder for allegedly crashing his Range Rover into a Perris woman’s car while under the influence, triggering a fire that killed her.

Juan Antonio Covarrubias, 31, could face 15 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder and driving on a suspended license in the March 31, 2011, death of 43-year-old Gyla Walters.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields began hearing motions on evidence and witnesses in the case on Wednesday. Jury selection will get under way today, when Fields is slated to bring prospective jurors into his courtroom in downtown Riverside for questioning as to their availability and qualifications.

Opening statements are tentatively set for Monday.

On the night of the crash, the defendant allegedly had a blood-alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in California.

Covarrubias left a house party in Perris in the predawn hours and headed west in his 2005 Range Rover, intending to return to Anaheim, according to the prosecution.

Around the same time, Walters was going home after working an overnight shift at a DHL plant in Moreno Valley. She was stopped at the intersection of Ramona Expressway and Evans Road, a couple of blocks from her house, waiting for the light to change, when Covarrubias approached from behind in his SUV, according to court papers.

Witnesses told sheriff’s deputies that Covarrubias’ SUV was weaving between lanes and never slowed down before slamming into the back of the victim’s Mazda Protege. The impact triggered a fire in the Protege’s fuel tank, and flames quickly consumed the vehicle, with Walters trapped inside.

Witnesses said Covarrubias initially tried to free Walters but couldn’t get her door open, abandoning the effort as the flames intensified, leaving Walters to die in the fire. According to prosecutors, the defendant tried to bribe passing motorists to help him get away, offering one man $500.

Deputies arrived moments later and arrested Covarrubias, who has been in custody at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning in lieu of $1 million bail.

The D.A.’s Office alleges that Covarrubias admitted during an interview with investigators that he had been warned by several people, including a relative, not to drive that night after the party, but did not heed the warnings.

Covarrubias has three prior misdemeanor DUI convictions, according to court records. He was on probation at the time of Walters’ death.

One Response to "Man accused of killing a woman in DUI crash goes on trial"

  1. Elliot   March 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    This is the kind of terrible story, that should give all judges and prosecutors a reaffirmation of their duty to punish and prosecute all DUI charges to their fullest extent.

    I’m not saying give the maximum penalty to all drunk drivers that walk in the door, I’m saying don’t falter in your duty. Not every case deserves or warrants the maximum punishments.

    But too often we hear about a drunk driver offending again after a lenient punishment. I realize this is more a demonstration of the power of alcohol addiction, and less of the impotency of the judiciary system. Still, the consequences of a DUI do deter some people from re-offending, but we are left to wonder what we were missing in this man’s punitive correction.

    Our hearts go out to Gyla Walters and her family. My only hope is the publication of terrible DUI crash stories such and this one & will help curb the insensitivity our society has to drunk driving.


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