Before emotional family members of the victims, a Modesto man accused of driving drunk and killing a Ceres mother and her two little girls made his first appearance in Stanislaus Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon.
Felix Ferdin has been charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in connection with the deaths of Mari Luz Jacinto Hernandez, 38, and her two daughters Eileen Lopez Jacinto and Alexa Sanchez, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday morning by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.
The California Highway Patrol reported that Ferdin, 46, was driving a sport utility vehicle and crashed into the family’s duplex home early Sunday.
The woman and her two daughters, ages 5 and 3, were taken to hospitals, where they died from their injuries. Her eldest daughter, 10-year-old Yoseline Vega, was seriously injured in the crash. She also is listed as a victim in the criminal complaint.
Several members of the victims’ family attended Tuesday’s court hearing, including the mother’s husband, Jorge Sanchez. He said he was still reeling of the news of the deadly crash.
“I can’t believe it,” Sanchez said in Spanish outside the courthouse. “It’s something that we never expected could happen.”
Ferdin also is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury in connection with the injuries Yoseline suffered. She was flown to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Sanchez, her stepfather, said Yoseline remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon.
“She’s improved a bit, but we’re hoping her condition will continue to improve,” Sanchez said. “We’ve been spending day and night at the hospital and trying to make funeral arrangements.”
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Carrie Stephens entered a not guilty on behalf of Ferdin, who appeared in court Tuesday without an attorney. Stephens appointed the county’s Public Defender’s Office to represent Ferdin.
Some of the victims’ relatives were emotional inside and outside the courtroom. One of them created a brief disruption during the arraignment.
The judge read the criminal complaint during the hearing, explaining the charges and asking the defendant if he understood. One of the victims’ relatives said loudly from his seat in the audience, “You killed her!”
The bailiff told the man to shut up, and he told the defendant to face forward toward the judge. Bailiffs warned those in the courtroom not to communicate at all with defendants.
The crash was reported shortly after 1:30 a.m. at the duplex in the 1200 block of Sam Avenue, just outside Ceres. The impact, though, was to the rear of the duplex, off Herndon Avenue.
Ferdin suffered minor injuries. CHP officials have said the preliminary crash investigation revealed that Ferdin, in a 2007 Chevrolet Equinox, was heading west on Holm Avenue at a high speed and failed to stop at the stop sign at Herndon, where Holm dead-ends.
He went through the fence and backyard of the duplex before crashing into the home.
Ferdin was taken into custody shortly after the crash. His bail amount was initially set at $100,000. The judge on Tuesday increased the bail amount to $790,000.
Deputy District Attorney Blythe Harris asked the judge to increase the bail to $1 million. The prosecutor argued that Ferdin presents a danger to the public if released from the Stanislaus County Jail.
Harris told the judge that Ferdin was driving drunk and speeding, when he failed to stop at a stop sign and shortly after crashed into the victims’ home. She argued that the defendant tried to leave the crash site by trying to drive in reverse out of the wrecked home.
When the disabled SUV failed to move, Ferdin started to walk away from the crashed vehicle, Harris said. Bystanders stopped Ferdin from leaving and detained him until authorities arrived.
The judge granted the prosecutor’s request and increased the bail to $1 million. She scheduled Ferdin to return to court June 17 for a pretrial hearing.
Stephens also informed Ferdin that a December 2003 conviction of assault with a deadly weapon was listed in the complaint. That conviction could lengthen a prison sentence for Ferdin if he’s convicted in this case.