A man has been rearrested and charged in connection with a suspected DUI crash in Garden Grove that killed a mother and her 9-year-old daughter on New Year’s Day, officials announced Sunday.
On Thursday, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office cited lack of evidence in declining to file charges against 30-year-old Melvin Cleveland Branch. But a further investigation that prosecutors requested from the California Highway Patrol prompted them to reevaluate the case, the District Attorney’s Office said.
Branch 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, and one felony count of driving with blood alcohol .08 percent or more causing bodily injury.
The Orange resident was also charged with one misdemeanor count each of resisting or obstructing an officer and assault on a peace officer, with sentencing enhancement allegations for causing bodily injury and death to multiple victims and fleeing the scene of a crime.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Branch surrendered to the CHP in Santa Ana on Sunday morning after officials issued a warrant. He remained in custody on $300,000 bail, inmate county records show.
Officers detained Branch shortly after the crash, which occurred before 1 a.m. on Jan. 1 on the westbound 22 Freeway near the Valley View Street exit, according to CHP.
Branch was allegedly driving a BMW sedan at high speeds when he rear-ended a Lexus, sending it into a barrier on the right shoulder.
The BMW then slammed into a Ford F-150 pickup truck, causing it to overturn and skid across the freeway, CHP Sgt. April Carter previously said.
Both vehicles hit the guardrail before coming to a halt. That’s when a fourth car, a Mazda sedan, hit the pickup truck carrying two occupants later identified by the Orange County coroner’s office as 33-year-old Jolene Gardner and her 9-year-old daughter Payton Castillo.
The girl died at the scene, while her mother succumbed to her injuries at a hospital, officials said.
According to a GoFundMe page set up for their family, the mother and daughter were heading home to Hawthorne from a New Year’s Eve party.
Branch suffered minor injuries in the crash. CHP said while he was being detained in the back of a patrol vehicle, Branch kicked the window and jumped out.
Officers ultimately managed to detain him and determine that he was under the influence of alcohol, CHP said. He was released from jail two days later, records show.
Prosecutors said if Branch is convicted as charged, he could face up to 20 years and eight months in state prison. He was scheduled to be arraigned on Monday morning.