A Cayucos native and former owner of a popular Morro Bay coffee shop was killed early Wednesday morning in a single- vehicle crash on Highway 1 that sent the driver to a hospital with major injuries.
Ashley Malmen, 27, was riding in the passenger seat of a rental car that struck a concrete wall and rolled about 2:15 a.m. near South Bay Boulevard. She died at the scene, according to the CHP.
The driver, 36-year-old Michael Kessler of San Luis Obispo, was arrested on suspicion of murder, felony driving under the influence, felony hit and run, being under the influence of drugs, possession of a controlled substance and driving with a suspended license.
He was placed under arrest and taken to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition Wednesday afternoon.
Kessler was driving a 2012 Toyota vehicle that Malmen had rented after her car had recently broken down, her parents said Wednesday.
Jeffrey and Cyndi Malmen last spoke to their daughter about 11 p.m. Tuesday, when she said she was going to bed. Shortly before the crash, one of Ashley Malmens brothers saw her at Jack in the Box in San Luis Obispo and thought she was headed home.
I thought she was home asleep, Cyndi Malmen said. It was not her practice to go out in the middle of the night.
The crash happened when the Toyota, northbound on Highway 1, drifted off the roadway, struck a road marker, and veered to the left across the northbound lanes of the highway, according to a CHP news release.
The vehicle struck the concrete wall and began to roll, ejecting Malmen, who was not wearing a seatbelt.
Kessler fled and was later located on the frontage road off Highway 1. CHP officers determined he was under the influence of drugs, according to Officer J.W. Townsen.
Jeffrey Malmen said Kessler called him, apparently after the crash, asking for a ride.
I said, Where is my daughter, Jeffrey Malmen recalled Wednesday. Mike said he thought she was in bed.
Unaware of what had happened, Jeffrey Malmen said he told Kessler to call 911 but agreed to come pick him up. When he drove south on Highway 1, the whole left-hand lane was lit up like a Christmas tree.
He met up with Kessler, whose face was bloodied. Morro Bay police showed up soon afterward.
According to court officials, Kessler has a record of misdemeanor offenses. He has pleaded no contest to several misdemeanor charges, including: driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance in 2003; to vandalism, disorderly conduct, unauthorized entry of a dwelling and giving false identification in 2005; and to driving with a suspended or revoked license in 2009.
A no-contest plea results in a conviction.
Ashley Malmens parents remembered her as an independent, outgoing woman who took great pride in running the Morro Bay Coffee Co., where she was known for remembering customers names and drink orders, her mother said.
The business opened in May 2005 and was sold in June 2010.
She had a huge following of customers because of the quality of her product but probably as much because of her great personality, said Sally Connell, whose daughter, Molly, attended Cayucos Elementary with Ashley. Ashley always had a strong personality and a great sense of self. Connell is a former Tribune reporter.
Ashley Malmen graduated from Coast Union High School in 2003. She took ballet classes Cyndi Malmen is a longtime ballet teacher and loved riding horses.
Ashley Malmen took some classes at Cuesta College and then built and opened the coffee shop with her father. At the time of the crash, she was between jobs and trying to decide whether to pursue nursing classes at Cuesta, her mother said. She was as sweet of heart as she was beautiful in face, Cyndi Malmen said.
Beside her parents, Ashley Malmen is survived by older brothers Jerry and William Malmen and her uncle, Mike Malmen.