A former server at the Viejas Casino in Alpine was ordered March 1 to stand trial for second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
After a three-day preliminary hearing, San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill held Lauren Ashley Freeman, 23, of Santee, to answer for all charges in the Feb. 26, 2018, death of Justin Callahan, 35.
“When someone drives the wrong way, it is not an accident,” said O’Neill.
Freeman is alleged to have driven the wrong way on a transition ramp between Interstate 8 and I-5 around 1:55 a.m. and collided head-on with Callahan’s Volkswagen Jetta.
Initially, California Highway Patrol officers believed it was Callahan who was driving the wrong way, but a re-examination of the evidence caused the agency to reverse its findings. She was arrested Nov. 2.
Deputy District Attorney Laura Evans said Freeman was driving at a blood/alcohol level of .24, which is three times the limit for felony drunk driving.
Evans said Freeman showed “wanton disregard for life” by drinking so heavily and driving in that condition. Freeman disregarded four signs on the on-ramp that showed she was driving the wrong way, said Evans.
The prosecutor put on testimony about Freeman’s work at Viejas Casino because she received alcohol service training there.
CHP officer Brad Clinkscales testified Freeman scored 100% on an alcohol sales exam at Viejas. A retired San Diego Police lieutenant who taught the class at Viejas also testified.
Her attorney, Philip Shapiro, argued that his client “did not know” that she could be charged with murder in a traffic fatality.
“It does not fit the rules the legislature set up,” said Shapiro, who added that charging murder in a traffic fatality is “bending the rules.”
Freeman was also charged with driving while intoxicated and causing great bodily injury to her passenger, Renee Taddeo, of El Cajon, who suffered a broken foot, clavicle, and other injuries.
“She knew…what she was doing was dangerous,” said Evans.
She also had a boyfriend who got a DUI and lost his license, so Freeman had to drive him places, she said.
Evans also cited a text message to Freeman from her mother that said “careful with drink and drive” on her cellphone a month before the crash.
Clinkscales also testified Freeman ran up a large bar tab that night and she took a “selfie” while there, which was found on her phone. He said there were many photos on her phone that showed her drinking.
Clinkscales said Freeman was at an “Every 15 Minutes” presentation at her high school in East County that taught students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Her attorney argued the high school presentation occurred many years ago when she was 16 years old.
Callahan’s family, who heard all 14 witnesses in the hearing, had pushed for the CHP to re-investigate the case after initially concluding it was Callahan who drove the wrong way.
Callahan was driving to his Ocean Beach home from work after he clocked out at 1:30 a.m., his family said.
“The cars collided and split apart,” said motorist Robert Balboa. “It was pretty much head on. There was a lot of debris.”
A defense witness, Thomas Brookhouzen, said it appeared to him that Callahan’s vehicle was going the wrong way.
Freeman’s family also attended the hearing.
She has pleaded not guilty. A trial date will be set on March 14. She remains in the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility on $750,000 bail.