Corona, CA: Family upset daughter's killer will get off easy

The Orland family of a young woman killed by a drunken driver in 2008 is trying to deal with the reality that their daughter's killer may serve less than 10 years in prison.

Rachel Elliott, just 19 when she was killed Feb. 21, 2008, in Corona, graduated from Orland High School only eight months earlier.

She ironically portrayed a teen involved in a fatal drunken driving accident at the school's observance of "Every 15 Minutes." Her father, Steve Elliott, said she was well aware of the dangers of drinking and driving.

Even though the woman who smashed head-on into Elliott's car was a former emergency medical technician and had driven an ambulance, Elliott contends she showed wanton disregard for the dangers of driving under the influence.

Jurors heard how Elva Diaz, 31, had been drinking with her boyfriend, a Placentia police officer, the night of the crash, and how he had warned her not to drive home.

Despite that testimony, the jury only convicted Diaz of involuntary manslaughter in June.

She'll be sentenced on Aug. 5, but may only draw an upward term of 10 years, with credit for time served.

The Riverside County District Attorney's Office was asking for a verdict based on a second-degree murder allegation.

"The prosecutor knew and advised us that it would be difficult to secure a conviction in this case, simply because Ms. Diaz has no prior DUI convictions," Elliott told this newspaper.

"We were willing to see it through, however, because we believed, as he did, that Ms. Diaz knew better than to drink and drive."

"I feel they (the jury) never got hear all of the evidence, or the whole truth."

Based on the verdict, Elliott fears prosecutors in Riverside County may not aggressively pursue the most serious charges in future drunken driving cases where victims are killed or injured.

"More innocent people will die as a result. That, to me, is the legacy of Aimee Vierra's success in the defense of her client, Elva Diaz," Elliott said.

Elliott and his wife, Jill, will travel to Southern California for the sentencing, and both will make victim impact statements to the court.

Other relatives may speak as well, but Elliott said a Victim-Witness adviser from the District Attorney's Office has counseled them to keep the statements to three or four.

"My statement, and Jill's, will be from the perspective of a father and mother whose daughter has been violently killed — a daughter whose good, beautiful, and promising life was senselessly cut short by a drunk driver," Elliott said.

"There is too much to say, but we will try to convey to the judge who Rachel was, what she meant to us, and the many ways in which her death has negatively affected our lives."

The statements may have a bearing in the sentencing, and will be reviewed at any future parole hearings.

As the Diaz case was wrapping up, Elliott said his family was following the Casey Anthony case in Florida.

"It was strange to see the similarities in the progress and execution of both cases," he said. "It was almost like the defense was following the same playbook."

"We were saddened by the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial as well, but not surprised. Everyone I know has expressed outrage at both the Casey Anthony and Elva Diaz verdicts," he said.

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