O.C. DA Declines to File Charges Against Man Arrested in Crash That Killed 9-Year-Old Girl, Her Mother

Citing a lack of evidence, the Orange County District Attorney's Office announced Thursday that it would not file charges against a man who was arrested following a chain-reaction crash in Garden Grove that left a mother and her young daughter dead early New Year's Day.

Melvin Branch is seen after he was released from custody at the Orange County Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana on Jan. 3, 2019. (Credit: ANG News)

Melvin Branch is seen after he was released from custody at the Orange County Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana on Jan. 3, 2019. (Credit: ANG News)

Melvin Branch, 30, was taken into custody on suspicion of DUI and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated following the four-car wreck, which occurred on the westbound 22 Freeway near the Valley View Street exit just before 1 a.m. Tuesday, authorities said.

The Orange resident was accused of driving a BMW sedan at "an extremely high rate of speed" when his car rear-ended a Lexus, sending it into a barrier along the right shoulder, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The BMW continued on and then slammed into a 2010 Ford F-150 pickup truck, which overturned and skidded across all lanes of traffic, said CHP Sgt. April Carter.

Both vehicles came to a halt after hitting the guardrail.

A fourth car -- a Mazda sedan -- struck the pickup and crashed into the center divider.

Jolene Gardner and Payton Castillo are seen in an undated photo posted to a GoFundMe page.

Jolene Gardner and Payton Castillo are seen in an undated photo posted to a GoFundMe page.

The chain-reaction crash killed the two occupants of the pickup truck, 33-year-old Jolene Gardner and her 9-year-old daughter Payton Castillo, according to the Orange County coroner's office.

They were headed home to Hawthorne after attending a New Year's Eve party, according to a GoFundMe account set up to pay for their funerals.

The young girl died at the scene; the mother succumbed to her injuries after being transported to the hospital.

Branch, who sustained minor injuries in the collision, was detained at the scene. While seated in the back of a CHP patrol vehicle, he managed to kick out the window and jump out, according to Carter.

He was recaptured and ultimately placed under arrest after allegedly being found under the influence of alcohol, the sergeant said.

Prosecutors declined to file charges against Branch due to a lack of evidence, but have asked for the incident to be investigated further.

KTLA's Dianne Sanchez contributed to this story. 

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