A repeat DUI offender whose SUV plowed into a car that immediately caught fire, killing a 43-year-old Perris woman at the wheel, was convicted today of second-degree murder.
Juan Antonio Covarrubias of Anaheim faces 15 years to life in prison when sentenced May 8 by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields.
Jurors deliberated two hours before finding Covarrubias guilty of the March 31, 2012, death of Gyla Walters.
Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Amy Barajas said Covarrubias flagrantly disobeyed the law and violated the terms of probation from his earlier DUI conviction by binge drinking and then driving more than 50 miles on the morning of the wreck.
“The defendant had a record of DUI offenses, all of which he pled guilty to,” Barajas said. “Every time he pled guilty, he was warned of the dangers of drinking and driving. Yet he still made selfish choices that ended this woman’s life.”
The prosecutor said Covarrubias consumed beer for several hours with friends in Anaheim, then headed to a house party in Perris, staying until nearly dawn the following day.
“People told him not to drive home, but he didn’t care,” Barajas said.
Covarrubias’ blood-alcohol level was .19 — more than twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in California — an hour after his arrest, she said.
The defendant was in his 2005 Range Rover, heading back to Anaheim, around the same time Walters was going home after working an overnight shift at a DHL plant in Redondo Beach.
She was stopped at the intersection of the Ramona Expressway and Evans Road, going east on the expressway, less than two miles from her house.
Covarrubias approached from behind in his SUV, weaving across lanes, never slowing as he reached the intersection and slammed into the back of the victim’s Mazda Protege, Barajas said.
The impact crumpled the smaller vehicle, igniting a fire in its fuel tank, the prosecutor said.
“Gyla burned alive,” she said.
Covarrubias attempted to flee the scene, offering one motorist $500, according to witnesses.
Defense attorney Adam Koppekin said his client was not exceeding the speed limit on the four-lane road, and that the post-collision fire was the result of a passing pickup truck throwing sparks that triggered the fire.
The attorney argued the defendant was, at most, guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
Covarrubias has three prior misdemeanor DUI convictions, according to court records.