SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – Just days after being released, a 30-year-old man has been re-arrested on allegations he caused a four-vehicle wreck on New Year’s Day which killed a mother and her 9-year-old daughter on the 22 Freeway in the Garden Grove area.
The Orange County district attorney’s office reports that Melvin Branch was arrested Sunday morning on a slew of crimes, including two counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, one count each of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or more causing bodily injury, resisting an officer and assault on a peace officer.
He also faces sentencing enhancements for causing bodily injury and death to multiple victims and fleeing the scene of a crime.
Branch, a Maryland native, pleaded not guilty to all charges at his arraignment Monday morning.
Just before 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Branch was speeding in a BMW on the 22 Freeway, east of Valley View Street, when he rear-ended a Lexus multiple times, causing the driver to lose control and slam into the right shoulder barrier wall, California Highway Patrol reports.
Branch then rear-ended a 2010 Ford F-150 pickup truck, which rolled over onto its right side and skidded across the freeway into a 2003 Mazda 3, CHP reports.
The Ford F-150 was carrying two people, 33-year-old Jolene Gardner and her 9-year-old daughter Payton Castillo. The two had been on their way home to Hawthorne after a New Year’s Eve party. Castillo died at the scene while Gardener passed away after being rushed to a hospital.
The drivers of the Lexus and the Mazda escaped injury.
Video footage from the scene showed Branch in police custody struggling with officers, breaking a patrol car window and climbing out. He was eventually handcuffed, strapped to a gurney and loaded into an ambulance.
Branch was immediately arrested after being evaluated by doctors. However, on Jan. 3, he was allowed to walk free from the Santa Ana Jail when the DA’s office reported it did not enough evidence to hold him.
However, the following day, Jan. 4, the DA’s office reversed course and “concluded” it had “sufficient evidence to ethically prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” it said in a news release. Prosecutors issued a warrant for Branch’s arrest and surrendered to the CHP’s Santa Ana office on Sunday morning.
The DA’s office did not confirm what specific additional evidence it had obtained that allowed prosecutors to move forward with the case against Branch.
Branch faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted as charged.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and eight months in state prison. He is being held on $300,000 bail. His next hearing is set for Jan. 25.