Appeal denied in fatal crash
The family of a Glenn County girl is relieved the appeal by the women convicted in her death following a 2008 auto accident in Southern California has been denied.
"It was a relief to us," said Steven Elliott, whose daughter Rachel, 18, was killed on Feb. 22, 2008, in Corona. "We did not know when it would happen. All we knew was she was appealing her conviction."
Elva Diaz was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated in a 2011 trial.
Diaz received a 10-year sentence. The first count was reduced from a second-degree murder charge.
She was driving a Chevrolet Tahoe on Feb. 22, 2008 in Corona when she collided with a Honda Accord driven by 18-year-old Rachel Elliott.
Elliott was attending the University of California, Irvine studying to be a forensic investigator.
She was living with her aunt in Corona, her father said, and heading home after visiting a friend.
Diaz appealed her conviction based on the claim her Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure were violated when accident investigators made a warrantless seizure of the sensing diagnostic module (SDM) from her impounded vehicle and downloaded the data from the device.
The SDM device is used to control air-bag deployments and records throttle and braking speeds as a secondary feature.
However, three justices with the 4th Appellate District Court ruled to uphold the conviction last week.
Diaz said because the SDM was inaccessible and not in plain view, and its data was not available without connecting it to a computer, there was reasonable expectation third parties would not have access to it, court documents state.
The device was removed in 2009 while the totaled vehicle was in an impound yard.
Diaz's attorney attempted to suppress the evidence at her trial, but was overruled by a Riverside Superior Court judge, court records state.
The appellate justices said the information obtained from the SDM was the vehicle's speed and braking immediately before the impact, and there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in speed on a public highway because it may be readily observed and measured through radar devices, pacing or estimates from a trained expert.
Diaz had been drinking with friends at a bar most of the evening, court records state.
After the accident, investigators said she failed a field sobriety test and was taken to a hospital where her blood alcohol level was recorded at 0.20 as late as 2:58 a.m., and was estimated at 0.23 at the time of the accident at 12:30 a.m.
They also estimated her speed at around 76 mph when the accident occurred - something the SDM data later confirmed, officers said.
Appellate judges indicated the Fourth Amendment did not apply in this case because the SDM was taken as part of a routine investigation in which the vehicle was examined for faulty equipment problems that may have contributed to the crash. Investigators found no mechanical problems with either vehicle.
They also cited Diaz's two other driving infractions, violating the maximum speed limit of 50 mph and crossing a divided highway line as evidence of guilt independent of the SDM data.
In addition, the panel said Diaz was grossly negligent by not heeding her friends' urging not to drive while intoxicated. Friends testified they offered to drive Diaz home but she refused.
Diaz had fled to Mexico in 2009 and did not return to the United States until July 2010.
She had worked as an ambulance driver and emergency medical technician prior to her arrest.
The justices' ruling is "kind of a victory for victims," Elliott said.
He said it makes it easier to corroborate evidence with a device's recorded data and may set a precedent for future cases.
He also hopes people hearing of the case will take their driving choices more seriously.