25-year-old UC Berkeley graduate student, Jose Lumbreras, was speeding through a residential area near Allston Way and California Street when he crashed into a tree last year, killing his two passengers: Milanca Lopez (22) and her son (6-year-old Xavier Chavez). At the scene, Lumbreras’s blood alcohol content was 0.219 and he had been driving at least 64 miles per hour. Lumbreras was recently sentenced to 6 years on state prison on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Lumbreras will most likely never finish his graduate degree in ethnic studies.
CA Penal Code §191.5 covers vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. When an individual has been drinking and, through their negligence, causes the death of others, then this particular law applies. There is a subtle difference, however, between “ordinary” negligence and “gross negligence.” If Lumbreras hadn’t been driving at an excessive speed in an obviously residential area, he might have been able to argue that his negligence was “ordinary,” like many accidents are.
To add some further complications to the story, the parents of Lopez have filed several lawsuits – against the Board of Regents at UC Berkeley, against Lumbreras, and against several other individuals. Evidently, Lumbreras and Lopez’s relationship began as graduate student/teaching assistant and undergraduate student – an unethical situation to begin with. Also, there have been allegations of sexual harassment, physical abuse, and domestic violence. The accident happened while the three were celebrating Lopez’s graduation. Lopez’s parents believe that the university could have prevented the accident, that in some way they could have kept Lumbreras from having a relationship with Lopez. In any case, it seems that there is much more to the story than a simple case of DUI and vehicular manslaughter.