MURRIETA – A Murrieta woman accused of killing a motorist and injuring her passenger in a DUI crash triggered when the defendant knocked over a sign in a construction zone pleaded not guilty today to gross vehicular manslaughter.
Yadira Gonzalez, 38, could face 15 years in prison if convicted of killing 40-year-old Emma Araujo of Long Beach and severely injuring the woman’s older sister in a Nov. 3 wreck in San Jacinto.
Gonzalez appeared before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Judith Clark, who scheduled a felony settlement conference in the case for May 8 and set the defendant’s bail at $125,000. Gonzalez is being held at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
Along with the manslaughter count, she’s charged with DUI resulting in injury and multiple sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegations.
On the night of the wreck, Gonzalez was headed eastbound in her Chrysler PT Cruiser when she slammed into a flashing arrow board mounted on an unhitched trailer. According to sheriff’s officials, the sign was directing motorists to merge into the right lane because of construction-related closures on the roadway.
Gonzalez — whose blood-alcohol level was .20, more than twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle — ran into the sign and continued east, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Araujo was going west at the same time in her Toyota Sienna and had no time to react when the sign toppled onto the hood of her car, plunging through the windshield and shearing off the SUV’s upper frame, inflicting massive head trauma to the victim and her sister, who survived and has since recovered, prosecutors said.
Araujo was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gonzalez went about 500 yards before pulling to the side of the road with a flat tire, according to investigators.
Deputies arrested her a short time later.
An extensive investigation was conducted to ensure the defendant’s car did not have a mechanical flaw that might have contributed to the wreck, and to determine whether the placement of the sign had anything to do with it.
Gonzalez posted a $50,000 bond after her arrest in November and remained free until her arraignment today, when she was taken into custody by deputies at the Southwest Justice Center.