A man who struck and killed a dog walker and five dogs during a police pursuit in Long Beach was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder and other charges.
Javier Olivarez Jr. also was found guilty of six counts of animal cruelty and one count each of evading a police officer causing death and driving or taking a vehicle without consent.
The charges stemmed from the May 2019 crash that killed 41-year-old Jessica Bingaman and five of the six dogs she was transporting in her Ford Escape. The SUV was struck by a stolen van driven by Olivarez, now 47, at the intersection of Third Street and Temple Avenue.
Bingaman was northbound on Temple Avenue when she stopped at a stop sign at Third Street. An eastbound van on Third Street failed to stop at the stop sign and slammed into Bingaman’s SUV, police said. Four vehicles parked along the street were struck by the van.
One witness told NBCLA she had just stopped for the intersection when the van crossed the center line to go around her.
“It was going so fast it was just a white streak,” said Juanita Gaglio.
Bingaman, a single mother from Long Beach who operated a dog walking and dog training business called The Pawtenders, died the next day at a hospital. Survived by her then-10-year-old daughter, she was a familiar sight in the community where she walked dogs. She often walked several dogs at a time for clients. More than 100 people turned out for a candlelight vigil in her honor the day after she was killed.
Four dogs named Indy, Toots, Scout and Maggie Moo died at the scene. A fifth dog named Sasha died at a pet hospital A sixth dog survived, but was seriously injured.
Data from the van’s black box showed that the stolen van was traveling at 71 mph just five seconds before the crash and then at 68 mph one second before the collision in an area with a 25 mph speed limit, and a blood test subsequently performed on Olivarez confirmed the presence of methamphetamine and amphetamine in his blood, prosecutors said.
Olivarez’s attorney, Efren Navar, told jurors in his opening statement that what happened was a tragic accident that led to the deaths of the woman and five of the dogs in her care. Navar said jurors would have to determine whether what happened was a murder, adding that he would be asking them to acquit his client of the murder charge.
Teri Lyn Miller, who lives near the scene of the collision, testified last week that she heard sirens and then saw a white blur that went by before hearing the crash.
“It was just horrific, very loud, the metal, the impact, very loud,” she said. “I said, ‘I can’t imagine, you know, anybody surviving what I heard. It was so horrific.’”
Two other people who were near the scene of the crash, including one who described hearing what she said sounded like an explosion, said they didn’t remember hearing sirens before the collision.
Olivarez — who was arrested the day of the crash — has remained behind bars since then. He was initially charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence involving Bingaman’s death, with the murder charge subsequently replacing that count.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 21.
Source: NBC Los Angeles
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