2011 fatal distracted driving case overturned; defendant gets released on probation

ByABC7.com staff via KABC logo
Friday, July 21, 2017
Jorene Nicolas, 31, is shown in court during her sentencing hearing on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015.
Jorene Nicolas, 31, is shown in court during her sentencing hearing on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A woman, who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter after crashing into another car while texting and killing that driver, has been released on probation after her case was overturned.

Jorene Nicolas was texting on her phone while driving on the 405 Freeway in Westminster in 2011 when she slammed into the back of another car at 85 mph, prosecutors said.

The driver of that car, 23-year-old Deanna Mauer, was killed.

Nicolas was tried in 2014, but a jury was deadlocked on the decision. Nicolas was retried, and she was convicted in August 2015 and later sentenced to six years in state prison.

Earlier this year, Nicolas' conviction was overturned after the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the judge in the case, Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg, had made technical errors.

Dawn Mauer, Deanna Mauer's mother, told Eyewitness News that the appeals court justices decided Bromberg's instructions to the jury contained an error.

According to the Orange County Register, the justices ruled that the judge told jurors that evidence concerning Nicolas' cellphone use could be proven under the standard of "preponderance of the evidence."

The erroneous instruction, they said, may have confused jurors and lowered the prosecution's burden of proof, because prosecutors were using the same evidence to prove gross negligence beyond a reasonable doubt, the publication stated.

At a hearing last Friday, Dawn Mauer said Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker was ready to take Nicolas back to court for another trial.

To avoid this, Nicolas pleaded guilty to all charges, including felony vehicular manslaughter.

She was sentenced to one year in jail and three years of probation, and as part of her plea deal, she was given credit for 1,404 days of time served and released, the Register said.

Reacting to the news, Dawn Mauer told Eyewitness News that she believes Nicolas should have admitted to everything six years ago.

The Mauer family has posted a billboard near State Route 22 as a way to honor their daughter and to warn people not to text and drive.