The family of a woman killed in a crash earlier this year with an off-duty deputy who they say was driving under the influence of alcohol says the investigation into the case has been lagging.
Witnesses say Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Auner was speeding when his Dodge Charger went over a median, crossed two lanes of traffic and struck a light pole in the early hours of July 8, according to attorneys for the family of Ashley Wells.
Wells, 23, was in the Charger’s front passenger seat and died instantly.
Wells’ family says their daughter met Auner for the first time earlier that day, and she and two friends left Hennessey’s Tavern in Redondo Beach with him. They say there’s no doubt in their mind he was under the influence after seeing video their daughter took showing Auner drinking shots with Wells and her friends.
“You’re drinking, you’re driving, you’re racing another car,” said the victim’s mother, Lanora Wells. “And we were told that the only reason why he was not arrested was because they were not aware of his drinking until after two hours after the investigation.”
According to Torrance police, the 22-year-old deputy was not given a field sobriety test because he was also injured and rushed to an area hospital.
The family says two friends of Ashley Wells’ who were in the Dodge’s backseat had to be extricated and suffered catastrophic injuries.
Four months later, there have been no arrests made or charges filed in the case. Auner has been placed on paid administrative leave, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
The investigation remains active, but has been delayed because officials are waiting for information to be filed, and they want to present a complete case to the district attorney’s office, a Torrance police spokesperson told KTLA.
Michael Parker, an attorney for Wells family, said it’s a highly unusual pace for a fatal DUI investigation.
“If it was any other private citizen, that individual would have been arrested on the spot, and we would have charges pending right now,” he said. “People should be concerned that certain people are getting special treatment in these circumstances.”
Parker also believes that Auner was not given a sobriety test. And, he says, video shows Auner racing another car shortly before he struck the pole while traveling in excess of 100 mph — which could prompt other charges.
“So regardless of whether he was intoxicated, regardless of whether he was racing, we believe there’s criminal conduct that should be investigated,” he said.
Parker and the Wells family were joined by Rep. Maxine Waters at a news conference Monday afternoon, asking the public to put pressure on Torrance police and L.A. County prosecutors so that the investigation is moved forward.
“For these long four months, the Wells family has had to deal with grief, and pain, and the empty space caused by the loss of their daughter, while facing the fact that absolutely no one has been held accountable,” Waters said. “The Wells family is simply demanding that the Torrance Police Department and the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office immediately take the appropriate steps to hold the officer accountable.”
Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect age for Ashley Wells. This post has been updated.