Wrong-Way Driver Guilty of Murder — Faces Life in Prison

Written by Estero Bay News

February 16, 2024

Earnesto Herrera, 27, has been convicted of a slew of charges including second-degree murder in the 2021 fatal crash that killed a 14-year-old girl in Nipomo. Submitted photo

A wrong-way driver, who in 2021 crashed head-on into a car on Hwy 101 in Nipomo, has been convicted on all counts, including second-degree murder, the District Attorney’s Office announced.

On Feb. 1, a SLO Superior Court jury convicted, Earnesto Nava Herrera, 27, on five charges in the fatal drunk-driving cash that killed a 14-year-old girl and seriously injured two others.

Herrera was convicted of second degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit and run causing death, driving while under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury, and driving on a suspended license, the D.A.’s news release said.

The convictions leave Herrera facing a possible life in prison sentence, which will be handed down on March 5 by Superior Court Judge Michael S. Frye.

The tale is a sad example of avoidable tragedy and the inherent danger of driving drunk.

“During the nearly 3-week trial,” the release said, “jurors heard evidence that on the evening of March 27, 2021, Herrera, while driving heavily intoxicated, collided with 70-feet of metal pipe fencing and knocked over a tree.”

Hitting a tree didn’t slow him down much. “He fled in his vehicle and entered Highway 101 using the Tefft Street off-ramp,” the release said. Turning into an highway off ramp is a common error that impaired drivers make, which results in them driving the wrong way of the highway, despite there being guard rails down the median to prevent vehicles from crossing over into oncoming traffic.

“While driving the wrong direction on the off-ramp, Herrera nearly collided with a vehicle that was exiting the freeway. The vehicle was able to swerve to avoid a head-on collision.”

Hitting a tree and a near-miss crash, didn’t even slow him down. “Herrera continued to accelerate northbound on 101 against traffic when he crashed into the victim vehicle head on. The collision killed a 14-year old and seriously injured two others in the victim vehicle.”

With his car totaled, Herrera fled the scene on foot. “Herrera fled on foot as his vehicle was disabled,” the release said. “About an hour after the deadly crash, California Highway Patrol located Herrera, by using a helicopter with Forward Facing Infrared [FLIR] technology. He was crawling near the freeway in an apparent attempt to avoid detection.”

Officers arrested him and he failed a sobriety test. “Herrera had a blood alcohol level of .164,” the release said, “nearly 2-½ hours after the deadly crash.” The legal limit to drive is .08% blood alcohol (BAL).

It was his second drunk driving arrest in just a few months and he’d apparently been warned of the consequences if he continued his reckless ways.

“On Dec. 31, 2020, just 3-months before the fatal collision,” the D.A. said, “Herrera was arrested for DUI and was read the following admonition: ‘Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and as a result of that driving, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder.’”

The acting district attorney said it didn’t have to be like this. “This is a terrible, yet completely avoidable tragedy,” said Assistant D.A. Eric Dobroth, who is overseeing the department while D.A. Dan Dow is deployed overseas. “As this incident so heartbreakingly illustrates, driving while impaired puts every life on the roadway in peril. We are committed to the aggressive prosecution of those driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in our community and will charge murder when appropriate.”

The D.A. has a message for everyone. “Please report suspected impaired drivers by calling 9-1-1. If you find yourself in a position where you have been drinking or have ingested drugs [legal or otherwise] and suspect that you may be impaired, please do not drive; call a friend or a ride service, or simply stay put until you sober up. If you see someone who is about to drive while impaired, please act. Let’s all be part of the solution.”

The case was investigated by the CHP, with the assistance of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation and was prosecuted by Deputy D.A. Melissa Chabra.

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