Good Samaritans pulled victim out of car as it burst into flames; second driver charged with vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run for fleeing scene of deadly accident
SANTA ANA, Calif. – A previously convicted impaired driver has been charged with murder for crashing into and killing an innocent driver during an illegal street race in Santa Ana on Thursday. The driver he was racing has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and hit and run causing permanent injury or death.
Louie Robert Villa, 29 of Santa Ana, has been charged with one felony count of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury while street racing, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol level of greater than .08, one misdemeanor count of street racing, and one misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended or revoked license with a prior conviction. Villa is also charged with one enhancement of great bodily injury.
Villa faces a maximum sentence of 21 years to life in state prison if convicted on all counts. He remains hospitalized due to injuries he sustained in the crash.
Drivers convicted of driving under the influence in California are required to be given what is known as a Watson advisement that informs them that if they kill someone while driving under the influence they can be charged with murder. Villa acknowledged that he received that advisement after pleading guilty to driving under the influence in 2012.
Ricardo Tolento, 24, of Santa Ana, has been charged with one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while engaging in a street race, one felony hit and run causing permanent injury or death and one misdemeanor count of street racing. He has also been charged with an enhancement of hit and run. Tolento faces a maximum of 11 years in state prison if convicted of all charges.
Villa was driving a BMW on Thursday, July 30, 2020 when he and Tolento began racing at the intersection of 17th Street and Bristol Street in Santa Ana around 11:40 a.m. Villa was seen pulling ahead of Tolento’s Infiniti shortly before crashing into a grey pickup truck making a turn at Santa Clara Avenue and 17th Street.
The crash caused the truck to roll over and burst into flames. Good Samaritans rushed to the victim’s aid and pulled him out of the vehicle. The driver, 67-year-old Gene Harbrecht, of Santa Ana, died at the hospital. Harbrecht was on his way to lunch.
Tolento drove away from the scene of the crash without rendering aid to the victim. He was arrested a short time later by the Santa Ana Police Department. Villa’s car was disabled in the crash and he was arrested at the scene.
“The decision to get behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs is a selfish one that unnecessarily endangers lives and all too often takes the lives of innocent bystanders,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “An illegal street race and a repeat drunk driver who had been warned about the dangers of driving under the influence collided in the middle of the day on a Santa Ana street, resulting in a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. Because of the selfish actions of two strangers, a wife will never see her husband again and many more lost a treasured friend and colleague. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office will vigorously prosecute illegal street racing and driving under the influence cases to the fullest extent of the law.”
Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.