Following a deadly crash in North Hills and an escape to Mexico, a Van Nuys woman pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges Wednesday after authorities say she killed a father of two in a DUI crash this past Father's Day before fleeing the scene.
Maritza Joana Lara faces felony charges of murder, hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person and driving under the influence of alcohol and a drug causing injury within 10 years of another DUI offense, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
Her next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 6 and her bail has been set at $2.13 million, according to prosecutors. She faces up to 31 years to life in state prison.
Lara, 27, was allegedly speeding north along Haskell Avenue when she ran a red light at Parthenia Street while driving a white 2016 Lexus IS 250 that belonged to a relative. The sedan struck the driver's side door of a blue 2005 Nissan Murano being driven by Francisco Hernandez Rivas just after 5:30 a.m.
The 48-year-old father of two was pronounced dead at the scene.
As Rivas' SUV was left flipped upside down on a front lawn, Lara was captured on surveillance video calmly walking away from the wreckage. The collision itself was caught on video that shows the SUV skidding off the road before landing just outside a home.
Four passengers inside the sedan Lara was driving were all left critically injured, authorities said. They later recovered and were listed in stable condition.
The charges against her also include a special allegation of causing great bodily injury to those four passengers, according to prosecutors.
After speaking with the victims, investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department identified Lara as the hit-and-run driver within two days of the crash. But she would elude arrest for another two months.
According to LAPD, Lara flagged down a good Samaritan who drove her home and then went to a Greyhound bus station in downtown Los Angeles. She allegedly boarded a bus bound for Mexico with her four children within two hours of the deadly collision.
On Aug. 15, she was detained by Mexican federal police in Chiapas, a state near the Mexico-Guatemala border. She was deported to the U.S. two days later.
Two of her children were also brought back to the U.S. while the other two remain in Mexico with their grandmother, according to LAPD.
Footage of the wreckage shows empty beer cans inside Lara's vehicle, a piece of evidence LAPD officials said would be used to prove she was under the influence at the time. Authorities have said she has a prior DUI conviction.
Inside the sedan Lara was driving were her sister and another woman who was seven months pregnant, police have told KTLA. The other two passengers have not been identified.
Haydee Santamaria Rodriguez, Rivas' wife, has described him as a great father and said he was on his way to church the morning of the crash.
An LAPD captain described the loss of Rivas as especially devastating to his family given the day he was killed.
"That's going to be a memory they will never forget every Father's Day," said LAPD Capt. Andrew Neiman.