An East Palo Alto woman has received 15 years to life in prison after a 2011 high-speed chase that led to the death of her friend, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.
A jury convicted Leylani Simmons, 28, of second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter and felony evading police on June 17, three years to the day of the accident that killed Lupe Veamatahau, 22. Veamatahau's mother and Simmons' aunt addressed the court at her sentencing hearing Friday in San Mateo County Superior Court.
On the evening of June 17, 2011, East Palo Alto police officers saw a vehicle driving recklessly at Pulgas Avenue and Camellia Drive and pursued the car. Simmons was allegedly driving at speeds between 60 and 80 miles per hour during the 1.5-mile chase that ensued, according to the district attorney's office. She ran at least six stop signs, twice drove on the wrong side of the road and ultimately lost control of the car. The vehicle overturned as she attempted to turn south from Pulgas Avenue onto East Bayshore Road, pinning Veamatahau between the car and the asphalt. Veamatahau died at the scene, according to the district attorney's office.
Simmons was ejected from the vehicle and hospitalized with serious, non-life-threatening injuries. She was originally charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence, driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in great bodily injury or death, a great bodily injury allegation and driving on a suspended license with a prior DUI conviction. She was also booked on charges and a no-bail warrant from Santa Clara County for reckless driving, defrauding an innkeeper and a warrant for driving with a suspended license, according to the district attorney. She pleaded not guilty in May 2012.
Superior Court Judge Clifford Cretan dismissed the two lesser charges related to driving under the influence causing great bodily injury at the prosecution's request because the offenses are included within the murder charge, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said after the conviction.
There was little leeway in her sentencing, Wagstaffe said at the time. Simmons must also pay court fines and restitution for the crimes. A restitution hearing is scheduled for Sept. 19.