A 23-year-old woman pleaded guilty Friday to killing a young mother and father and seriously injuring their three daughters while driving under the influence in December 2020.
Grace Elizabeth Coleman of Newport Beach pleaded guilty to two felony counts of murder; one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury; one felony count of driving with a blood alcohol of .08% or more causing bodily injury; and one felony count of hit and run with injury, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
On Dec. 8, 2020, the family of the five was driving around Newport Beach looking at Christmas lights when they were hit by a car that ran a red light at 75 miles per hour.
Gabriela Andrade, 28, and her husband, Henry Saldana-Mejia, 27, were in the car with their three daughters, ages 1, 4, and 5, near the intersection of Pelican Hill Road and Newport Coast Drive. Around 7:45 p.m., Coleman is accused of running a red light and crashing into the family’s vehicle, killing both parents and seriously injuring the children, who were secured in car seats.
The girls were hospitalized with broken bones and fractures, and required surgery.
Coleman had a blood alcohol level of .22% and left the scene of the collision, leaving the injured children strapped in their car seats with the bodies of their parents.
She refused to take a blood alcohol content test as required by law, officials said.
Coleman also pleaded guilty to three felony enhancements of great bodily injury for causing injuries to all three of the couple’s daughters.
“Driving around looking at Christmas lights shouldn’t have ended in tragedy, but three young girls are orphans because of the selfish decision of a stranger,” O.C. District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a written statement. “Drinking and driving has real life consequences – and those little girls are going to have to live with those consequences the rest of their lives because someone they never met decided to get behind the wheel of a car while drunk and kill their parents.”
Coleman pleaded guilty in exchange for a court offer of 21 years to life. She faced a maximum sentence of 42 years and eight months to life in state prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced on July 29.
At the time of the incident, relatives told KTLA the two older girls knew what was going on while the then-1-year-old child was unaware.
“The oldest one, I think she remembers stuff from that night,” said their aunt, Diana Saldana, Henry’s sister. “She told me that she saw mommy and daddy were sleeping, and she tried to wake them up but she couldn’t.”
Coleman was also arrested in August 2020 — 3 1/2 months before she killed Gabriel Andrade and Henry Saldana-Mejia — on suspicion of drunken driving in Laguna Beach. She pleaded guilty in that case to one misdemeanor count of driving with a blood alcohol of .08%, and admitted to having a blood alcohol of .18% at the time of that arrest.