Deputy to stand trial on murder, reckless driving in Torrance crash that killed passenger – Daily Breeze

A 24-year-old Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy turned off the anti-lock brake system in his Dodge Charger before losing control and crashing into a light pole, killing one of his passengers and severely injuring two others in Torrance in July 2020, a detective testified in court on Thursday, Dec. 16.

Had Daniel Manuel Auner not pushed the button, he may have been able to maneuver his car to avoid the light pole on the southwest corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and 190th Street, Torrance police detective Robert Schuffman testified in Torrance Superior Court.

Instead, the wheels locked up, sending the car directly into the pole, killing Ashley Marie Wells, 23, of Redondo Beach, just before 12:30 a.m., July 8, 2020, authorities said.

The two injured passengers had hospital stays of 10 and 21 days, according to evidence presented at the hearing. Both suffered numerous fractures and internal injuries, prosecutor Stephanie Miyata told the court during the two-day preliminary hearing that concluded Thursday.

Schuffman testified that anti-lock brake systems were sometimes turned off for racing situations on a track, allowing drivers to “drift,” or slide, during turns.

That testimony played a part in Judge Alan B. Honeycutt’s ruling, he said, to have Auner face trial for murder and reckless driving charges.

Auner, who was off-duty, was driving with four passengers northbound on Crenshaw when he failed to negotiate the road’s jog just before the intersection, according to testimony. Photos presented at the hearing show skid marks stretching from one side of the street that has a raised median to the other.

Attorneys on both sides agreed that evidence shows that Auner’s car was traveling at about 115 mph when it hit the median and at least 71 mph when it slammed into the pole.

His blood-alcohol content measured at 0.077, slightly below the legal limit, about 90 minutes after the crash.

Wells was seated in the front-passenger seat, while the two women who got injured in the back seat with another man, Niqo Hinds, who suffered minor injuries.

Hinds testified that the group had been drinking in Hermosa Beach and Torrance. Hinds said he saw Auner drink two shots, a mixed drink and three beers after Hinds joined the group at 6 p.m. The crash occurred more than six hours later.

Auner drove himself throughout the night, while others used ride-share services to get to Torrance. Auner offered them a ride from Buffalo Wild Wings at the Del Amo Fashion Center to a friend’s house where they planned to continue hanging out.

When Auner turned onto northbound Crenshaw Boulevard, he started speeding with a friend, who was driving alongside in a pickup truck, Hinds said.

The crash, Hinds recalled, caused him to hit his head on the car’s ceiling before he blacked out.

“Once it all happened, it was like a flash, and the next thing I know, I’m outside the car,” he testified.

Auner and Hinds were outside the car when she arrived, Torrance Officer Joanna Warren testified.

Auner had a gash on his forehead, but denied drinking prior to the crash, Officer Brooks Wing said. He told Wing he was unfamiliar with the road and the curve caught him off guard, the officer said.

The judge’s ruling came as a relief to Wells’ parents and other victims and their families, who were concerned that Auner being a law enforcement officer might impact the decision.

“We’ve been waiting a long time,” said Duane Alan Wells, Ashley’s father. “We had our doubts at first what was going to happen. … But it came out to be a good day.”

Defense attorneys argued that implied malice had not been proven to keep the murder charge, but Honeycutt disagreed, saying Auner’s drinking pattern, manner of driving and knowledge of the dangers of drinking and driving given his profession were factors.

“It’s a tragic case for all sides,” defense attorney Robert Ernenwein said. “A family lost their daughter, two women were seriously injured and you have a guy who lived a life of service who lost his career and it’s been difficult on his family.”

Auner, who posted bail following his May 2021 arrest, sat in a black suit during both days of the hearing. His arrest came 11 months after the crash.

He remains on unpaid leave with the Sheriff’s Department, according to his defense attorneys. He was assigned to jail operations when the crash occurred.

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