Grace Coleman is seen in her booking photo in December 2020
A drunk driver wept in court as she listened to victim impact statements from three little girls who were orphaned after she plowed her Range Rover into their parents.
Grace Coleman, 23, could be seen rubbing tears from her eyes at Newport Beach court house Friday as she was jailed for 21 years to life after admitting the second-degree murders of Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia, 27, and his wife Gabriela Andrade, 28, in December 2020.
At one particularly emotional part of the hearing, a family member read a letter from Elena Saldana-Mejia, who wrote: ‘I miss my mom and dad.’
The full letter, seen on display on a courtroom table, added: ‘I feel sad when the accident happened.’ The judge presiding over the case was overcome with emotion at hearing the statements, and had to pause to compose himself.
Elena’s parents were killed in Newport Beach in December 2020 after Coleman smashed her Range Rover Sport into their Nissan Versa while the family were looking for Christmas lights.
Elena and her sisters Emma Sofia and Samantha – all aged between one and five at the time – were wearing their Christmas pajamas when tragedy struck.
The three girls wailed in their wrecked car after the accident, with Coleman walking past them to try and leave the scene. She was apprehended by police before she could do so, and was found to be almost three times over the drink-drive limit.
Coleman is seen sobbing in court on Friday as the victim impact statements are read out
Henry Eduardo Saldana-Mejia, 27, and Gabriela Andrade, 28, (pictured) were killed by drunk driver Grace Coleman in December 2018. Coleman was jailed for 21 years to life, as the couple’s three orphaned daughters, Elena, Emma Sofia and Samantha looked on and shared victim impact statements
The girls are seen in court with relatives as Mayra Amaro, mother of Gabriela Andrade, read out her statement
The couple left behind their three young daughters, Emma Sofia, Elena and Samantha, aged one, three and five
Amaro said that her granddaughters were suffering immensely and still required further surgery
A friend had driven her home, but she then got back in her car.
On Friday, with the girls in court, their drawings and writings were read out.
Jennifer Gutierrez, a cousin of the victims, told the court: ‘Who is going to walk them down the aisle if they ever get married? Who is going to dance with them at their quinceanera?’
Judge Gregg Prickett, presiding over the Orange County Superior Court proceedings, had to pause and collect his emotions at one point.
He said: ‘Those precious girls, I’m sorry,’ as his voice cracked.
Judge Gregg Prickett had to pause and collect himself during the emotional hearing
One of the girls listens in as her impact statement is read out to the court
Juana Corrigan, a sister of the couple, also addressed the court in Newport Beach
One of the three siblings is seen leaving court on Friday after sentencing
The little girls are currently living with their aunt in San Diego
Outside court, Mayra Amaro, mother of Gabriela Andrade, said that the girls were suffering.
‘They are the ones who cry for their mom and dad, who are no longer here.’
The girls were seriously injured in the crash, and still require surgery.
Their legs were broken in the crash, but they’ve now recovered physically and are living with their maternal aunt in San Diego with the support of other family.
The family is now suing Coleman in a civil suit, which also includes her parents who allowed her to drive the Range Rover despite her two previous drunk driving incidents.
Jeffrey T. Roberts, lawyer for the family, said the sentencing hearing was ‘probably the most moving thing I’ve ever seen.’
He said that Coleman met with the family privately and expressed her remorse.
‘This was the first time she had been face to face with the little girls,’ he said.
‘I know she had been hearing from the family about what they had lost. Now she was face to face with them.’
Coleman’s Range Rover hit the couple’s Nissan Versa, in which they were traveling with their three children, aged one, three and five, at around 7.45pm
The young couple were declared dead at the scene of the crash (pictured) and the three children were rushed to hospital with critical injuries
He said the family do not hate Coleman, but believe she made a ‘very, very bad choice’.
Roberts added: ‘They’re not an angry, vitriolic family. They didn’t mention hatred of any sort.’
Coleman pleaded guilty in June to second-degree murder.
‘Ms Coleman openly accepted responsibility to the judge for this complete tragedy,’ said Paul Meyer, her defense attorney.
In addition to the murder charge, Coleman pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, driving while her BAC was at or over the legal limit of .08%, and failure to stop at hit-and-run with injury and death.
She also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of DUI and driving with a BAC in excess of the legal limit stemming from an August 16, 2020 arrest.
If the case went to trial, Coleman could have been convicted to at least 42 years and eight months.
‘We recognize the difficult judicial call in a very tragic case involving a 22-year-old young woman and the truly horrible results of drinking and driving,’ Meyer said.
‘We appreciate the judge’s wisdom in balancing the very sad tragedy with Grace Coleman’s age, full acceptance of responsibility and strong rehabilitation along with her year of selfless community service while in custody.’