Orange County Criminal Defense

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Drunk Driver Runs Over 3 People in Orange County

July 6, 2012

Fred Thiagarajah

Jessica Louise Cowan was arrested Saturday, June 23, 2012, for running over a mother and her two children.  The mother and her two little girls, aged 5 and 6, were on their way to church.  Cowan, who was reportedly driving her Lexus at approximately 60 mph westbound on 17th St. in Santa Ana, ran a red light and struck the pedestrians while they were in the crosswalk.  The 5 year old girl is dead; the mother and the other daughter are in critical condition.  Cowan kept driving after she ran the people over and a witness followed her and trapped her until the police arrived.

Cowan’s Lexus after the collision:

Grey Car in Crime Scene

Cowan failed a field sobriety test at the scene and there was a container of marijuana found in her car.  It is unclear whether she was under the influence of alcohol or marijuana or both.  One of the little girls was knocked out of her shoes:

Shoes on a road in a crime scene

Cowan was booked at the Central Jail in Santa Ana and bail was set at $250,000.

Cowan mug shot

Assuming that the mother and other daughter live, Cowan is facing a multitude of charges including vehicular manslaughter in violation of Penal Code section 191.5(a) or (b) for the 5-year old girl that died, felony DUI for the mother and other daughter, in violation of Vehicle Code section 23153 and felony hit & run for all three, in violation of Vehicle Code section 20001.

Penal Code section 191.5 defines vehicular manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being while driving while intoxicated where the killing was the proximate result of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony.  Penal Code section 191.5(a) is gross vehicular manslaughter which requires gross negligence.  Penal Code section 191.5(b) is vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.  The difference in penalties is significant.  For more information on the difference between these two charges, check out our website here.  Cowan’s case, given that she was driving at 60 mph on surface streets and ran a red light, and failed to stop at the scene, the prosecution will most likely charge that she acted with gross negligence and charge Penal Code section 191.5(a).  The maximum punishment for Penal Code section 191.5(a) is 10 years state prison.

Vehicle Code section 23153 is a DUI where an injury results, and Vehicle Code section 20001 is a hit and run where an injury occurs.  The maximum punishment for a DUI with injury is 3 years state prison, but where two people were injured, the maximum punishment is 4 years state prison.

Vehicle Code section 20001 is a hit and run where an injury or death occurred at the scene of the underlying accident.  In cases where a serious injury or death occurred, normally the maximum penalty for this violation would be 4 years state prison.  However, in cases where the person was also convicted of Penal Code section 191.5, then the maximum penalty is additional 5 years state prison consecutive to the punishment imposed by Penal Code section 191.5.

The total maximum punishment that Ms. Cowan faces could be over 20 years state prison.  For more information on any of these charges, please see our main website at


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