DUI suspect re-arrested, charged in Garden Grove Fwy. crash that killed girl and her mother

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (KABC) -- A DUI suspect was re-arrested Sunday morning in connection with a multi-vehicle crash on New Year's Day that killed a mother and her 9-year-old daughter on the Garden Grove Freeway.

Melvin Cleveland Branch was initially held on $100,000 bail after being arrested Tuesday, but he was released from custody on Thursday as Orange County prosecutors asked investigators for more evidence.

The Maryland man was charged Friday with two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, one felony count of driving with blood alcohol of .08 percent or more causing bodily injury, and one misdemeanor count each of resisting/obstructing an officer and assault on a peace officer.

Jolene Gardner, 33, and her 9-year-old daughter Payton Castillo were killed in a multi-vehicle crash on the Garden Grove Freeway on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019.

Sentencing-enhancement allegations included causing bodily injury and death to multiple victims and fleeing the scene of a crime, according to a statement from the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

A warrant was issued for Branch's re-arrest and he turned himself in to the California Highway Patrol at the agency's Santa Ana office, the news release said.

Branch, who turned 30 on New Year's Eve, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and eight months in state prison if convicted as charged. He was arrested shortly after the 12:50 a.m. crash on the 22 Freeway, just east of Valley View Street.

Nine-year-old Payton Castillo and her mother, 33-year-old Jolene Gardner, and a third person were in a pickup truck that overturned in the pileup. The girl died at the scene, the CHP said. Gardner was pronounced dead at UC Irvine Medical Center.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help pay for the victims' funeral services.
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