SANTA ANA, Calif. – A repeat drunk driver was convicted Wednesday of hitting and killing a 77-year-old woman and seriously injuring her boyfriend when he crossed into oncoming traffic while driving on the Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano.
Edward James Nani, 41, of Lake Forest, was convicted by a jury of one felony count of second-degree murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, one felony count of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more, and two felony enhancements of inflicting great bodily injury.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning guilty verdicts on all counts.
Nani, who had been previously convicted of driving under the influence twice, faces a maximum sentence of 21 years to life. He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 13, 2021.
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. Nani received the Watson advisement when he plead guilty in 2010 to misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence and driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more.
Nani also has a prior DUI conviction from 2002.
On March 31, 2018, Nani was driving on the Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano around 8:24 p.m. A driver behind him became so concerned with Nani’s erratic driving, including crossing into oncoming traffic, that he began recording Nani as he drove behind him. The driver called 911 to report a drunk driver, telling the dispatcher the driver was going to kill someone.
Amparo Castellon Lopez, 77, and her boyfriend, Jose Robert Pacheco, 74, were driving home from visiting Lopez’ daughter and grandchildren when they were hit by Nani’s vehicle when he crossed into oncoming traffic.
Lopez was killed and Pacheco suffered a broken arm, leg, pelvis, and ribs.
“This individual repeatedly demonstrated that he had no regard for human life and it was only a matter of time before he killed someone by getting behind the wheel intoxicated,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “Getting behind the wheel while intoxicated or high or drugs is a choice and it can be a deadly choice. With bars and restaurants back open for business following the pandemic, it is more important than ever to make good choices when you drink or do drugs. If you make the choice to get behind the wheel and you kill someone while impaired, you could be charged with murder.”
Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.