RIVERSIDE – A repeat DUI offender whose SUV plowed into a car that immediately caught fire, killing a 43-year-old Perris woman at the wheel, is expected to be sentenced today to 15 years to life in prison.
Juan Antonio Covarrubias was convicted March 13 of second-degree murder and driving on a suspended license in the March 31, 2012, death of Gyla Walters.
A Riverside jury took two hours to return with guilty verdicts. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields is expected to impose the sentence required by law.
According to Deputy District Attorney Amy Barajas, Covarrubias flagrantly violated the terms of probation from his earlier DUI conviction by binge drinking and then driving more than 50 miles on the morning of the wreck.
”The defendant had a record of DUI offenses, all of which he pled guilty to,” Barajas said. ”Every time he pled guilty, he was warned of the dangers of drinking and driving. Yet he still made selfish choices that ended this woman’s life.”
The prosecutor said Covarrubias consumed beer for several hours with friends in Anaheim, where he resided, then headed to a house party in Perris, staying until nearly dawn the following day.
”People told him not to drive home, but he didn’t care,” Barajas said.
Covarrubias’ blood-alcohol level was .19 — more than twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in California — an hour after his arrest.
The defendant was in his 2005 Range Rover, heading back to Anaheim, around the same time Walters was going home after working an overnight shift at a DHL plant in Redondo Beach. She was stopped at the intersection of the Ramona Expressway and Evans Road, going east on the expressway, less than two miles from her house, according to court papers.
Covarrubias approached from behind in his SUV, weaving across lanes, never slowing as he reached the intersection and slammed into the back of the victim’s Mazda Protege.
The impact crumpled the smaller vehicle, igniting a fire in its fuel tank, Barajas said.
”Gyla burned alive,” she said.
Covarrubias attempted to flee the scene, offering one motorist $500 to drive him out of the area, according to witnesses.
Defense attorney Adam Koppekin argued that his client was not exceeding the speed limit on the four-lane road, and that the post-collision fire was the result of a passing pickup truck throwing sparks.
Covarrubias, who is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside, has three prior misdemeanor DUI convictions.