BANNING, Calif. - A repeat DUI offender who was on probation when she
caused a 2014 crash while drunk, killing a woman and seriously injuring two men
in Desert Hot Springs, was sentenced today to 25 years to life in state prison.
Monica Benavidez, 37, was convicted in February of second-degree murder,
enhancing allegations. Jurors deliberated for only a few hours before returning
guilty verdicts on all counts.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan sentenced
Benavidez to 15 years to life on the murder count and 10 years on the other
The June 5, 2014, crash killed 65-year-old Desert Hot Springs resident
Maria Caballeros and seriously injured her son-in-law, Rigoberto Cuevas, and
his co-worker, Javier Fierro-Ayon.
Benavidez previously pleaded guilty in 2006 and in 2012 to misdemeanor
DUI counts, for which she received probation; pleaded guilty in 2008 to driving
with a suspended license; and was charged in 2013 with DUI and driving with a
suspended license, court records show. She was on probation for the 2012 DUI at
the time of the fatal 2014 crash.
Prosecutors said Benavidez had a .21 percent blood-alcohol content --
nearly triple the legal limit -- when her Toyota Camry crossed the double-
yellow lines on Palm Drive and crashed head-on into a Toyota Corolla driven by
The crash left Caballeros dead at the scene and Cuevas suffering from a
traumatic brain injury, respiratory failure, a spine injury and fractures to
his skull and ribs. Prosecutors say he was left paralyzed and requires
treatment and nursing care.
Fierro-Ayon, who was in the back seat of the Corolla, suffered multiple
fractures that required surgery, as well as four broken ribs.
Benavidez, who was alone in the Camry, also sustained serious injuries
in the crash and was pulled out of her car by a bystander.
Deputy District Attorney August Sage said Benavidez was warned of the
dangers during her previous DUI convictions, but on the day of the crash
``consciously disregarded those warnings.''
``The decision she made took the life of Maria Caballeros that day,''
Sage told the jury.
Fierro-Ayon testified that he saw Benavidez's car enter their lane about
five to six seconds prior to the crash. After the impact, he said he saw
Cuevas bleeding from the nose and mouth, but didn't see Caballeros before
firefighters pulled him out of the wreckage.
Jurors were shown a photo of Caballeros slumped over in the passenger
seat and bleeding from the neck. The cause of her death was blunt force trauma,
according to the prosecution.
Benavidez's attorney, Dennette McIntyre, argued her client was likely
guilty of drunken driving and perhaps even manslaughter but rejected the
prosecution's second-degree murder charge, which requires that defendants act
with conscious disregard for human life.
McIntyre framed Benavidez's state of mind as ``reckless indifference''
and said other factors brought up by the prosecution, including her two prior
convictions, did not mean the prosecution would meet the burden of proof for a
``Just because someone has prior convictions does not mean there was
conscious disregard for life,'' McIntyre said.