Ex LASD deputy gets 13 years in prison for driving 116 mph, killing passenger in off-duty crash

Saturday, June 17, 2023
Ex LASD deputy gets 13 years in prison for driving 116 mph, killing 1
A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was sentenced to 13 years for an off-duty crash in Torrance that killed his 23-year-old passenger and seriously injured two others.

TORRANCE, Calif. (CNS) -- A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who pleaded no contest to charges stemming from an off-duty crash in Torrance that killed his 23-year-old passenger and seriously injured two other people in the vehicle was sentenced Friday to 13 years in prison.

Superior Court Judge Tony Cho ordered Daniel Manuel Auner, 25, to be immediately taken into custody after the sentencing, and he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Auner pleaded no contest May 31 to one count each of voluntary manslaughter and gross vehicular manslaughter and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

The charges stemmed from a crash just after midnight July 8, 2020, that killed Ashley Wells, 23, who died from multiple traumatic injuries.

Auner was initially charged in May 2021 with murder and reckless driving on a highway causing injury. Those charges were dismissed as a result of his plea.

Auner was driving 116 mph when his Dodge Charger struck the center median, and the vehicle was traveling at least 71 mph when it struck a traffic pole at the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and 190th Street, according to stipulations between the prosecution and the defense during a December 2021 hearing in which he was ordered to stand trial.

Two other young women in the vehicle suffered multiple injuries that resulted in one of them being hospitalized for 22 days and the other being hospitalized for 10 days, according to the stipulations.

"I certainly don't get any joy out of him going to prison,'' Wells' mother, Lanora, told the judge. "It doesn't bring Ashley back.''

She described her daughter -- a Redondo Union High School graduate -- as "full of love'' and said she had a "zest for life'' and "made a difference in every life she touched.''

Francyne Ferlazzo told the judge that she was there to tell the true story of "speeding, drinking and reckless driving'' and said her daughter, Sarina, and the young woman's friends met Auner that night in Hermosa Beach.

"They trusted him because he said he was a police officer,'' she said, noting that her daughter suffered numerous injuries including a fractured pelvis and has been left with scars and is deaf in one ear.

"I don't think David Auner even remembers Sarina. I want him to remember what he did,'' she said, telling the judge that she hasn't seen any remorse and that it's now Auner's "turn to suffer.''

Diane Kleen told the judge that her daughter, Lexi Benjamin, was conscious during and after the crash, and that she had suffered a shattered leg and other injuries that left her mother caring for her for a year after her release from the hospital. She said her daughter still suffers from extreme post-traumatic stress syndrome, and said the crash had a ripple effect on others.

Auner sat with his head down as the victims' family members spoke.

The judge asked if Auner wanted to say anything before his sentence was imposed, but defense attorney Robert Ernenwein said his client did not.

Auner was arrested by Torrance police in May 2021, one day before the criminal case was filed against him.

He remained in custody until he was released from jail on bond just over two weeks later and was given credit for 371 days already served given his time on house arrest. He waived credit for 365 additional days.

"We feel it's a tragedy on both sides,'' one of Auner's attorneys, Pat Carey, said outside court.

He said he hopes that the plea deal and and sentencing bring some closure to the victims' families, along with Auner's family, whom he said has been suffering, too.

At a December 2021 hearing in which Auner was ordered to stand trial, Torrance Police Detective Robert Schuffman testified that he observed 398 feet of skid marks and subsequently concluded that the vehicle had been traveling at an "unsafe speed'' on the street that has a posted speed limit of 45 mph.

A test performed of Auner's blood-alcohol content about 1 1/2 hours after the crash measured .077, according to a stipulation between the prosecution and the defense. That is just under the amount considered legally impaired.

One of Auner's attorneys told a judge at the hearing in 2021 that there "was evidence of drinking but "no evidence of intoxication,'' adding that "two officers concluded that the cause of the crash was unsafe speed and unsafe speed only.''

Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Miyata countered that Auner had a "heightened knowledge'' of the dangers of drinking and speeding because of his work and had been "drinking alcohol all evening.''

Superior Court Judge Alan Honeycutt noted at the 2021 hearing that a law enforcement officer would have specialized training about alcohol and speeding and said the evidence suggested that the defendant was "racing another vehicle.''

Honeycutt added that testimony indicated that Auner had disengaged the safety systems of his "muscle'' car -- something the detective said would take away the ability to help control the vehicle.

"It was a pretty chaotic scene,'' Torrance Police Officer Brooks Wing, who responded to the crash scene, testified at the December 2021 hearing.

The officer told a judge that he spoke with Auner, who told him that he slammed on his brakes and lost control of the vehicle after being caught off- guard by the curve of the road ahead. The defendant -- who had a gash on his forehead -- said he wasn't sure how fast he was driving, according to Wing.

The officer said he didn't smell any alcohol and was concentrating his efforts on getting medical assistance for those who needed it.

Auner's "peace officer powers continue to be suspended since July 2020" and he is currently "relieved of duty without pay, according to a statement released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department the day he entered his plea. His current status with the department was not immediately available.

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