The Clovis woman charged with driving drunk and killing a man on Highway 41 in Madera County pleaded not guilty Tuesday to two felony DUI counts and vehicular manslaughter charges in Madera County Superior Court.
Investigators believe Candice Ooley, 23, may have passed out behind the wheel when the crash happened Friday on Highway 41 north of Road 200.
Ooley, who is pregnant, had a 0.32 blood alcohol level – four times the legal limit of 0.08 – at the time of the 9:50 p.m. collision, said David Linn, Madera County district attorney.
“She had been home in Clovis and had a fight with her boyfriend,” Linn said. “She started driving and started drinking.”
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Ooley was arrested by the California Highway Patrol after crashing her 2014 Chevrolet Cruze into the rear of a 2006 Hummer H3. The CHP said Ooley was intoxicated and may have been passed out when she rear-ended the Hummer. The CHP report said the speed Ooley was driving isn’t known.
The Hummer’s driver, Mauricio Lourenco, 40, of Lemoore, lost control, went off the road and down an embankment. He was released from Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno on Tuesday.
The crash killed Federico Duarte Nunez Silva, 47, of Lemoore, and injured Juana Pineda, 40, and Louisa Pamplona, 48, both of Lemoore. The women were treated and released from Community Regional Medical Center.
Ooley appeared electronically Tuesday from the Madera County Department of Corrections. She sat in a room with about 10 other inmates. Most of them were talking and even laughing among themselves as they sat handcuffed on three benches, but Ooley only stared at the floor until called to the front of the room for arraignment.
She told Judge Joseph A. Soldani that she may hire her own attorney, and a public defender was appointed to represent her in the interim.
Her bail was set at $250,000, an increase from the original ruling of $155,000. Linn asked for the increase.
Ooley has a prior DUI charge in Madera County pending against her. She was arrested in December on suspicion of DUI. She had not made any court appearances on that earlier charge; her latest hearing was scheduled last week in Bass Lake.
Linn said after the court appearance Tuesday that his investigators were looking into a possible murder charge against Ooley. To do this, he has to prove that she knew when she got behind the wheel on Friday that a second DUI crash leading to a death could be charged as a murder.
This is most commonly done through a judge’s warning at the conclusion of DUI proceedings, Linn said. Because she missed her court date, Ooley didn’t receive this warning in Madera County. Investigators are searching for any DUI convictions in other counties, which would likely pave the way for a murder charge.
But there are other ways.
Linn said many students learn about DUI enhancements and penalties in driver’s education classes, so he is looking into Ooley’s class curriculum.
He also learned that she worked at Applebee’s. Many bars, Linn said, train their staff on when to cut off customers and why. It’s possible she learned of the penalties from that.
Regardless of how Linn makes the argument for a murder charge, if he does, it ultimately will be up to a judge. Ooley is scheduled to be in court for a preliminary hearing on June 3.
For vehicular manslaughter with great bodily injury and the enhancements, Ooley faces at least 15 years in state prison. With a murder charge, she could face 20 to 25 years in prison, Linn said.
Ooley’s pregnancy is far along, Linn said, but he doesn’t know her due date. Although such a case could yield a child endangerment charge in other states or in federal court, Linn said, California does not have any precedent for one.
Ooley graduated from Buchanan High School in 2011. In 2010, she was awarded a $1,500 scholarship by Clovis Unified School District for overcoming adversity on the way to educational success.