Daughter, father plead not guilty to hit-and-run killing

INDIO, Calif. - A woman accused in a hit-and-run crash in Palm Springs that killed a Desert Hot Springs teenager a year ago pleaded not guilty today, along with her father, who is charged with being an accessory.

Heather Marie Brents, 30, and Russell Ted Stienecker, 69, entered the pleas at their arraignment at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Brents on a felony charge of hit-and-run resulting in death or injury and Stienecker on a felony accessory count.

The Desert Hot Spring residents, both free on bail, were arrested May 6 in connection with the crash that killed 16-year-old Zia Hoyos, and are next due in court June 12 for a felony settlement conference and a bail review hearing. Deputy District Attorney Karen Salas wants bail, now set at $5,000 each, increased to $75,000 each. She said Zia's family wants to speak at the bail hearing.

A group of Hoyos' family and friend attended the arraignment, and brought a large sign with her photo on it.

Stienecker attorney John Patrick Dolan told City News Service that it's "very possible" that both defendants will plead guilty in the case next week.

"This is not a case of `whodunit' -- it's what's their level of responsibility," Dolan said.

Arrest warrants were issued last month for the pair in the May 21, 2012, crash that killed Zia, according to Palm Springs police Sgt. Harvey Reed.

Someone reported a dead girl on North Gene Autry Trail, north of East Via Escuela, about 1:35 a.m. that day.

According to a declaration filed by Palm Springs police Officer Stephen Woodward in support of an arrest warrant, Brents "drank herself to blackout" while celebrating with friends. She dropped off her companions, then allegedly struck and killed the pedestrian on Gene Autry on her way home.

She stopped several hundred feet down the road, didn't see anything because it was dark and went home, according to the declaration. Later that morning, she noticed damage to the front of her vehicle and panicked when she saw news reports about Hoyos' death, Woodward alleged.

Officer Eric Goya wrote in another declaration that Brents told her father, the registered owner of the Toyota Tacoma pickup she was driving that night, that "she believed she was responsible for killing the girl on the news."

Stienecker removed the truck's damaged front grille and covered the vehicle with a tarp, Goya alleged.

Neither called police, according to the officers.

A friend of Brents told police a few weeks after the crash that one of her friends may have struck the girl, according to Woodward, who said Brents later told investigators that she remembered hitting something.

Police found a piece of a Toyota Tacoma at the scene.

Dolan said Brents and Stienecker met with authorities four days after the crash and gave them complete statements.

"They have cooperated and been available to cooperate for the last year," Dolan said.

According to court records, Stienecker has no criminal record in Riverside County; Brents pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor embezzlement charge in 2009.

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