A repeat DUI driver who killed a man while street racing in Santa Ana in 2020 has been found guilty and faces up to life in prison.
The driver, Louie Robert Villa, 31, of Santa Ana, is charged with killing 67-year-old Gene Harbrecht, a longtime Orange County Register editor and Santa Ana resident.
Villa was found guilty in an August trial, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He had previously pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2012.
On July 30, 2020, Villa engaged in a street race near the intersection of 17th Street and Bristol Street in Santa Ana around 11:40 a.m. Villa pulled up to another driver, Ricardo Tolento, 26, of Santa Ana and the two began racing.
During the race, Villa pulled ahead of Tolento before crashing into a pickup truck that was making a left turn onto Santa Clara Avenue at Bristol Street.
The crash caused the victim’s truck to roll over and burst into flames, authorities said.
Nearby good Samaritans rushed to Harbrecht’s aid and pulled him out of the truck. He was transported to a local hospital, where he later died. Harbrecht was returning from a lunch break when he was killed, officials said.
Villa’s car was destroyed during the crash and he was arrested at the scene. Tolento continued driving away before he was later spotted by police and taken into custody.
Villa has been convicted of one felony count of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury with a prior DUI conviction, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol level of greater than .08 with a prior DUI conviction, and one misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended or revoked license with a prior conviction.
Tolento has been charged with one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while engaging in a street race, one felony hit-and-run causing permanent injury or death, one misdemeanor count of street racing and an enhancement of a hit-and-run.
If convicted of all charges, Tolento faces up to 11 years in state prison. He is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
“The death of an innocent man was a result of years of poor choices by the defendant to drink and drive even after he had been warned of the deadly consequences,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. Nothing will bring Gene Harbrecht back to his wife and loved ones; but hopefully his death will be enough to redirect the trajectory of his murderer’s life after he completes his prison sentence – and it will serve as a warning to anyone else who wants to get behind the wheel drunk or high and race on Orange County’s streets. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office will vigorously prosecute illegal street racing and driving under the influence cases to the fullest extent of the law.”
Orange County authorities have been ramping up efforts to combat illegal racing and street takeovers, which have continually plagued the streets of Orange County over the past few years.
In April, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office joined 10 other Orange County law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, to form an anti-street racing coalition called Strategic Traffic Enforcement Against Racing & Reckless Driving.