Officials ID Mother, 9-Year-Old Daughter Killed in Suspected DUI Crash in Garden Grove

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Coroner’s officials on Wednesday released the names of a Hawthorne mother and her young daughter who were killed in a chain-reaction crash caused by a suspected drunken driver on the 22 Freeway in Garden Grove early New Year’s Day.

Jolene Gardner, 33, succumbed to her injuries after being taken to the hospital, while 9-year-old Payton Castillo died at the scene, according to Orange County coroner’s officials.

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 mother and daughter were on their way home from a New Year’s Eve gathering at the time of the crash, according to a GoFundMe campaign.

They are survived by husband and father Danny Castillo, and brothers Christian and Logan, the page states.

Orange resident Melvin Cleveland Branch was arrested on suspicion of DUI and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated following the four-car pileup, which occurred just before 1 a.m. Tuesday on the freeway’s westbound lanes, near the Valley View Street exit.

Branch had turned 30 on New Year’s Eve.

Investigators say he was speeding in a BMW sedan when he rear-ended a Lexus in the carpool lane, which sent the Lexus careening into a barrier wall on the right shoulder.

Branch’s BMW next slammed into Gardner’s 2010 Ford F-150 pickup, which overturned on its side and skidded across multiple lanes. Both the truck and BMW eventually came to rest against a guard rail, according to California Highway Patrol.

A Mazda sedan then struck Gardner’s pickup and crashed into the center divider, the agency said.

Both sides of the freeway were shut down for nearly 10 hours amid the ensuing investigation.

Branch suffered only minor injuries, officials said. According to CHP Sgt. April Carter, after Branch was detained he was able to kick out the rear window of a patrol car he was placed in and jumped out before being recaptured.

The suspect was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday, but O.C. district attorney’s officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday night on whether he had been arraigned.

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