Crime

Will judge give the maximum sentence to drunken driver who killed four people?

On Thursday, Rien Ban, 45, of Fresno, was convicted of four counts of murder for causing a head-on collision on Highway 180 that killed four people, including two children, in June 2014.
On Thursday, Rien Ban, 45, of Fresno, was convicted of four counts of murder for causing a head-on collision on Highway 180 that killed four people, including two children, in June 2014. Special to The Bee

A Fresno man faces life in prison after a jury found him guilty of killing four people, including two children, in a drunken-driving, head-on collision on Highway 180 east of Mendota in June 2014.

Rien Ban, 45, will be sentenced Jan. 12 in Fresno County Superior Court.

Jurors deliberated less than two hours Thursday before finding him guilty of four counts of second-degree murder. Each murder count carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison.

The collision happened in the late afternoon of June 22, 2014, on Highway 180 near Sonoma Avenue. The California Highway Patrol said Ban was driving east when his Mercedes SUV smashed into a westbound Kia sedan.

Suyapa Quezada, 37, of Mendota was seriously injured. Her two sons – Lisandro Enriquez Rodriguez, 10, and Danny Enriquez Rodriguez, 7 – and her sister, Belkys Rodriguez Quezada, 25 and engaged to be married, died in the crash. Also killed was Sinoeun Uong, 37, who was a passenger in Ban’s SUV.

Ban, who was also seriously injured, was taken by helicopter to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. Two hours after the collision, Ban’s blood-alcohol was .21, or nearly three times the .08 legal limit to drive, court records say.

The head-on collision happened in the late afternoon of June 22, 2014, on Highway 180 east of Mendota.

During the trial, prosecutor William Terrence said Ban had been drinking all day. He was driving east on the two-lane highway when he decided to pass a car. Ban drove into the westbound lane and passed the slower eastbound vehicle. Meantime, Suyapa Quezada, who was driving west on 180, saw the SUV in her lane and turned left into the eastbound lane to avoid a collision, Terrence said. The SUV, however, turned right and the two vehicles smashed into each other in the eastbound lane, the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Marina Pincus said Ban never intended to kill anyone and might not have caused the fatal collision.

Pincus told jurors that Ban was home in Fresno when his daughter called him and said her car had broken down near Los Banos. Ban borrowed a friend’s Mercedes SUV and drove to help his daughter. After fixing his daughter’s car, Ban, his daughter and their friends drove to a slough in Mendota to fish for crawdads. After a day of drinking, Ban drove his friend’s home.

Pincus said Ol Oeum, a passenger in Ban’s car and whose wife was Uong, told the CHP that Ban had passed the slower eastbound car and had safely returned to the eastbound lane. According to Pincus, the Kia was in the eastbound lane because Quezada was passing a westbound car.

Two hours after the collision, Rien Ban’s blood-alcohol was .21, or nearly three times the .08 legal limit to drive, court records say.

Ban was tried for second-degree murder under the legal theory of “implied malice.” To get a murder conviction, the prosecution had to prove he drove under the influence, knew driving while drunk was dangerous, and showed a conscious disregard for human life.

During the trial, Terrence pointed out that Ban knew the dangers of drinking and driving because he had convictions for drunken driving in 2000 and in 2006. After each conviction, Ban completed a court-mandated program that taught him the dangers of such behavior. And in his last conviction, Terrence said, the judge warned Ban that if he drove while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and killed someone, he could be charged with murder. Ban told the judge he understood the admonition, Terrence said.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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