Sonora, California – Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg announced today that Brenda Barrera, 28, of Modesto, was convicted by a jury today before Judge Donald Segerstrom of Second Degree Murder and Driving Under the Influence Causing Great Bodily Injury stemming from a head on collision on Highway 108/120. Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter prosecuted the case for the People.
On April 21, 2015 at 10:00 a.m., Ms. Barrera was driving a 2005 Mercedes Kompressor west bound on SR 108/120. A motorist reported the vehicle being driven very erratically beginning at Chicken Ranch Road, with additional motorists seeing very bad driving (driving off the road numerous times, crossing the center line or driving completely into the opposing lane of traffic and fluctuations in speed) after O’Byrnes Ferry Road. Approximately a mile from the junction with J59, Ms. Barrera drove her vehicle into the opposing lane of traffic and struck a 2005 Chevy Malibu driven by Maxsimiano Aldana, 78. Mr. Aldana’s vehicle rolled several times and ended up on its roof. Motorists and emergency responders assisted with the other passengers, Martha Aldana 69, Vincente Cabrera, 85, and Sara Cabrera 80. Mr. Aldana was pronounced dead at the scene and his wife and the Cabreras were life-flighted from the scene and suffered numerous broken bones.
Ms. Barrera was contacted at the scene and at SRMC, where she was treated for a bruised hand and ankle, and determined by Officers Tim Scott and Steven Warzee to be under the combined influence of cannabis and a central nervous system depressant. A blood draw was done and Ms. Barerra’s blood was tested by the Department of Justice and found to contain Alprazolam (Xanax) and Marijuana. A search of Ms. Barrera’s vehicle and purse found a glass smoking tip and several containers with marijuana residue. Mr. Hovatter stated that the evidence pointing to her conviction for murder was overwhelming. She had been convicted of a prior DUI in 2014 and had signed an advisement warning her that if she drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and someone was killed as a result, she could be charged with murder. A court document with that advisement was presented at trial bearing Barrera’s initials showing she had read and understood the advisement. In addition, her vehicle had been observed on Black Oak Casino property earlier that morning being driven on the wrong side of the traffic lane at several locations. She then left the casino and her observed bad driving spanned for 6.9 miles culminating in the collision. Evidence was presented that the defendant had been smoking marijuana for seven years and that she would smoke it every day if she could get it. Her boyfriend, who owned the Kompressor, told CHP officers that she had taken Xanax in the past. This evidence showed that Barrera was familiar with the two drugs and had to know how dangerous it was to drive while under the influence of them. Finally, Mr. Hovatter stated that the evidence was that Barrera’s driving was so bad that she had to have known her conduct was dangerous to human life and that continuing to drive with her history and her prior advisement was in conscious disregard for human life.
After a six day trial the jury took three hours to return the verdicts. The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank the members of the jury for their careful attention to the case and their thoughtful deliberations. A special thank you also goes to California Highway Patrol Officers Tim Scott and Steven Warzee for their hard work in investigating this case. We would also like to thank the civilian witnesses who called 911 and rendered assistance to the victims at the scene, District Attorney Laura Krieg stated. Ms. Barrera is due to be sentenced on April 18, 2016 in Department One of the Tuolumne County Superior Court. She faces up to 28 years to life in prison.