TONY RACKAUCKAS, ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
PRESS RELEASE, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Date: September 1, 2011
Susan Kang Schroeder, Office: 714-347-8408, Cell: 714-292-2718
Chief of Staff Farrah Emami, Spokesperson, Office: 714-347-8405, Cell: 714-323-4486
Case # 11HF222: DRUNKEN DRIVER CHARGED WITH MURDERING NEPHEW AND INJURING BROTHER-IN-LAW BY CRASHING INTO TRAFFIC LIGHT POLE
SANTA ANA – A drunken driver has been charged with murdering his nephew and severely injuring his brother-in-law after driving while intoxicated and refusing the offer of a bartender and police officer to call him a cab. Tapu Aniceto Sitagata, 27, Santa Ana, is charged with one felony count each of murder, driving under the influence causing bodily injury, driving with a blood alcohol .08 percent or more causing bodily injury, hit and run with injury, and one misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended license. He faces sentencing enhancements and allegations for causing great bodily injury and personally inflicting great bodily injury. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and eight months to life in state prison. Sitagata was arrested and charged today, Sept. 1, 2011, and is being held on $1 million bail. He is expected to be arraigned tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. in Department CJ-1, Central Jail, Santa Ana.
On the night of Dec. 20, 2010, Sitagata is accused of drinking alcohol with several friends and relatives at Newport Five Cocktail Lounge in Tustin. At approximately 1:15 a.m. on Dec. 21, 2010, the defendant and his group were asked to leave the bar by the bartender for becoming too rowdy. The defendant and his group are accused of remaining in the parking lot of the bar until after 2:00 a.m., at which time they refused the offer of the bartender to call them a cab. At 2:20 a.m., an officer from the Tustin Police Department contacted the defendant and his friends in the parking lot, instructed them not to drive, and offered to call a cab for the defendants. Sitagata and his friends are accused of refusing the officer’s offer and claiming that they had already called for a cab and were awaiting its arrival.
Minutes after the Tustin officer left, Sitagata is accused of getting into the driver’s seat of a Chevrolet Suburban and driving away from the bar. The defendant’s 20-year-old nephew, Pesa Sitagata, was seated in the back seat and 34-year-old brother-in-law, Aron Ia, was seated in the front passenger seat. While driving under the influence of alcohol, Sitagata is accused of crashing into a traffic light pole at the intersection of Irvine Center Drive and Culver Drive in Irvine. He is accused of murdering Pesa Sitagata, who died at the scene due to injuries sustained in the crash. Ia sustained serious injuries including fractures to both legs, broken ribs, and a lacerated spleen and liver.
A witness stopped at the crash site to see if anyone needed help and contacted Sitagata, who is accused of standing outside of the car and failing to call 911 to help his injured family members. When the witness offered to call 911, the defendant is accused of telling him not to and then running away from the scene on foot. The Irvine Police Department (IPD), who investigated this case, responded to the scene and arrested Sitagata a short distance away. Sitagata is accused of having a blood alcohol level of .17 percent approximately an hour and a half after the crash. At the time of the crime, Sitagata is accused of driving on a suspended license and being on probation stemming from a 2004 misdemeanor driving under the influence conviction. Based on this conviction and his subsequent court-ordered participation in an alcohol awareness course, the defendant is accused of having knowledge that driving under the influence of alcohol could result in the death of himself or others. IPD submitted the case to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office one month ago.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Alison Gyves of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.
Case # 11HF2225