Wrong-Way Drunk Driver Gets Life

Written by Estero Bay News

April 2, 2024

Earnesto Nava Herrera

A wrong-way driver who pled “No Contest” in connection with a drunk driving accident that killed a 14-year-old boy and seriously injured two others has been given a life sentence for his crimes, the District Attorney’s Office announced.

Earnesto Nava Herrera, 28, was sentenced to 6-years 8-months plus 15-years-to-life in State Prison for the series of crashes back on March 27, 2021. 

He pled No Contest back in January to: second degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit and run causing death, driving under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury, and driving on a suspended license. He also pled to possession of child pornography that was discovered on his phone during the homicide investigation, the D.A. reported.

During a 3-week trial, jurors were told about the events of that fateful night. “Herrera,” the news release said, “while driving heavily intoxicated, collided with 70-feet of metal pipe fencing and knocked over a tree. He fled in his vehicle and entered Highway 101 using the Tefft Street off-ramp [in Nipomo].”

He entered the highway using the off ramp, which put his vehicle heading into on-coming traffic. “While driving the wrong direction on the off-ramp,” the release said, “Herrera nearly collided with a vehicle that was exiting the freeway. The vehicle was able to swerve to avoid a head on collision.” The next car he came upon wasn’t so lucky.

“Herrera continued to accelerate northbound on 101 against traffic when he crashed into the victim vehicle head on. The collision killed 14-year-old “J” and seriously injured two others in the victim vehicle.” 

But he wasn’t done with this rampage. “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 FLIR (forward facing infrared) technology. He was crawling near the freeway in an apparent attempt to avoid detection.”

He was double drunk at the time of the crash. “Herrera had a blood alcohol level of .164, nearly 2 ½ hours after the deadly crash.” The legal limit to drive in California is 0.08% BAL. It was his second DUI in just a few months.

“On Dec. 31, 2020,” the D.A. said, “just three months before the fatal collision, 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.’” 

At the sentencing hearing the 14-year old victim’s mother provided a statement describing her son:

“My son…”J”, was an only child, a miracle boy, and he had many dreams and aspirations. He was a very ambitious 14-year old, enjoyed soccer, and was an avid reader. He loved to travel and had been to Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, and many states in the U.S., and he loved Disneyland. 

“He was a pleasure to be around, and he was loved by many. He loved math, physics, and science. He was a 4.0 student and was en route to be valedictorian of his class. He aspired to be an engineer and hoped someday to be a Noble Prize winner. 

“He loved sea otters, and he had a best friend, Oddy. He looked forward to Summer Christian Camp, and spending time with his cousins. He also enjoyed summer school and math enrichment, and spending time with his friends.

“J will be missed every day and remembered forever.”

Assistant D.A. Eric Dobroth empathized with her. “This is a terrible, yet completely avoidable tragedy,” Dobroth said. “As this incident so heartbreakingly illustrates, driving while impaired puts every life on the roadway in peril. We will aggressively prosecute drunk or drugged drivers in our community and will charge murder when appropriate. We are hopeful that completion of the criminal case will provide family and friends the space necessary to begin healing.”

The case was investigated by the Highway Patrol, with the from the D.A.’s Bureau of Investigation and was prosecuted by Dep. D.A. Melissa Chabra.

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