Woman accused of killing Orland teen in car accident returned from Mexico
Friday, Jul 30 2010, 4:35 pm
By Rob Parsons/Tri-County Newspapers
The woman authorities believe is responsible for the 2008 drunken driving death of an Orland teenager was extradited from Mexico to Southern California earlier this week to face murder charges.
Riverside County prosecutors believe Elva Diaz was drunk Feb. 21, 2008, when she was reportedly driving south in the northbound lane on Knabe Road in Corona, Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco said in a statement.
Pacheco said, while speeding down the wrong traffic lane, Diaz smashed head-on into the oncoming vehicle driven by Orland’s Rachel Elliot.
Elliot, 18, died early the following morning in a Wildomar hospital. She graduated from Orland High School in 2007.
“Officers investigating the crash found that Diaz was an ambulance driver and an emergency medical technician and that she chose to drive even after being told not to by her boyfriend and others at a bar, where she had been drinking prior to the crash,” Pacheco said.
Her reported blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash was .20, nearly three times the legal limit, according to investigators.
Diaz, 31, reportedly fled the state in 2008 after posting bail and sought refuge from family members in the remote Mexican town of Santa De Camotlan, which is about 2.5 hours outside Guadalajara.
The Riverside Fugitive Apprehension Task Force assumed custody of Diaz late Tuesday afternoon after she was flown to Los Angeles, Pacheco said.
Diaz was arraigned Thursday in Riverside County Superior Court, but did not enter a plea to charges of murder, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving on a suspended license for a prior DUI, according to Riverside County Jail records.
Diaz remains in custody at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside in lieu of $1.5 million bail.
She is due back in court for a bail reduction motion Monday and on Aug. 12 for arraignment.
John Hall, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said despite frustration over the two-year delay, investigators stayed on the case and “were adamant about tracking this defendant down.”
“Any time there’s a death involved, we make it a high priority to seek justice for the family,” Hall said in a telephone interview Friday.
Hall said Riverside investigators worked closely with the U.S. Marshal Service and Mexican immigration authorities to locate and arrest Diaz.
“Once we obtain information that she was staying with relatives, we followed that until she was apprehended,” Hall said.
Diaz is a U.S. citizen originally from West Covina, but was living in Corona at the time of the crash, Hall said.
Elliot was living with extended family while attending the University of California, Irvine, working towards a career as a forensic investigator.
Remembered by friends and family as a top student with a good-natured friendly attitude, Elliot was well known in Orland, despite only living in the community for just four years.
A year after her tragic death, Orland students dedicated a bronze plaque commemorating the popular teenager during the high school’s highly emotional 2009 graduation ceremony.
Orland schools Superintendent Chris von Kleist called Elliot “a great person” said her death was “a total tragedy” for anyone that knew her.
“I’m glad they finally caught someone and I hope she pays for what she did for a very long time,” von Kleist said Friday.
Steve Elliot, Rachel’s father, said he was relieved to hear authorities had finally made an arrest.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” Elliot said Friday. “But, obviously, nothing can bring Rachel back.”
Elliot said he was thankful for the continued efforts of the Riverside Fugitive Task Force, which kept his family abreast of developments and helped them to never lose hope.
The father said that he and his wife, Jill, along with their 19-year-old son, Erik, have struggled with their tremendous loss in every way imaginable.
“Of course, there’s the emotional toll, the financial toll and the grief that’s just very, very difficult,” Steve Elliot said.
If the case goes to trial, the Elliot family plans to attend as much as possible, Elliot said.
Saying he hoped Diaz would be held accountable and face the consequences for the pain his family has suffered.
While acknowledging that nothing is likely to quell his family’s tremendous grief, he is now hopeful that the person investigators believe to be responsible will not simply get away with it.
Diaz has not been convicted of any crime.
“Rachel was a good girl who had dreams and hopes and plans and her life was just snuffed out by some irresponsible person - there has to be consequences for that.”