The defense attorney for Obdulia Sanchez – the 18-year-old Stockton woman accused of driving drunk while recording the crash last month that killed her younger sister – said on Friday he has reason to believe the cellphone use and alleged alcohol use didn’t cause the crash.
“We have reason to believe the accident was caused by wear and tear on the tire, causing it to blow out,” said Ramnik Samrao, deputy public defender for Merced County. “That’s where we are focusing our investigation.”
Sanchez briefly appeared in Merced Superior Court in Los Banos on Friday to schedule a preliminary examination. Wearing yellow jail clothes and handcuffed, Sanchez’s face broke into a smile when she saw her family sitting in the back of the courtroom, including her parents, younger sister and younger brother.
Sanchez’s 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline, was thrown from her older sister’s 2003 white Buick Century and killed July 21 in a rollover crash on Henry Miller Road on the outskirts of Los Banos. Sanchez, whose family calls her “Lulu,” was live-streaming on Instagram while driving, and the crash and immediate aftermath were captured on videos that since have gone viral and gained national attention.
Sanchez recorded herself standing over her sister’s body while talking into the camera on her phone, authorities have reported.
“This is the last thing I wanted to happen, OK? ... Rest in peace, sweetie,” the teen says in the recording. “If you don’t survive, I’m so (expletive) sorry.”
California Highway Patrol investigators have said she had a blood alcohol content of .106 after the crash.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office charged Sanchez with six felonies, including gross vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving. Speaking through her court-appointed attorney, Ramnik Samrao, Sanchez pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The Sanchez family continues to struggle with the loss of one daughter while the other sits in jail, said Nicandro Sanchez, Obdulia’s father.
“We don’t believe it. We think it’s not true,” he said on Friday. “It’s hard for us. It’s not easy to live these things.”
Nicandro Sanchez said the family is working to stay up to date on the case, cooperate with authorities and make sure Obdulia has everything she needs.
The family believes Obdulia’s fate is in God’s hands, and they will move forward, he said.
Nicandro also said they look forward to reuniting with Jacqueline in heaven. “One day we are going to be back together again,” he said in Spanish. “We know she’s with God. I’m almost certain that she’s listening ... her spirit is one that will never die.”
Samrao speaks to Sanchez once or twice a week while she remains in John Latorraca Correctional Center on $560,000 bail.
On Thursday, Samrao and Sanchez watched footage from officer body cameras when they arrived to the scene of the crash.
“It was heartbreaking to be there and watch it and the way she reacted to everything and cried to everything, the same way she does on the body camera (footage),” Samrao said.
He and Sanchez also watched a Spanish-language news story on her sister’s funeral. “It was the same thing, she was really broken up about it,” Samrao said. “But she was happy she did get to see that.”
The case will be back in court at the end of the month so the defense and prosecution can discuss toxicology tests. The prosecution requested Sanchez’s blood be retested to see if there were any drugs in her system, and the defense plans to hire an expert to be present at testing.
During the preliminary examination, set in September, prosecutors plan to have California Highway Patrol and Los Banos Police Department officers testify about what happened at the scene of the crash, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min said.
In reports obtained by the Sun-Star, officers described Sanchez as “belligerent” and said she repeatedly spit at officers, used racial slurs and kicked one emergency responder from Riggs Ambulance in the face.
Min hopes the toxicology results will be returned before the September hearing, where the Department of Justice analyst who conducted the blood alcohol test may be called to testify, he said.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477