Pomona man gets 15 years to life in prison for wrong-way freeway crash that killed Buena Park mother
A Pomona man who caused a fatal crash while driving drunk on the wrong side of an Orange County freeway was sentenced Friday to prison.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Hanson ordered Ruben Gurrola, 26, to serve 15 years to life in state prison for setting in motion the 2013 collision on the 91 freeway that left Kyung Namgoong dead and two others seriously injured.
Gurrola, reading a hand-written statement, told the families of those affected by the high-speed crash that he was “heartbroken and remorseful” about his actions that night.
“I wish that God had taken me instead of her. … I will always carry this pain and sorrow in my head,” Gurrola said. “I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused you.”
Namgoong’s family members remembered the 53-year-old Buena Park woman as a devoted mother of two children, a regular churchgoer and a talented artist who led a simple life.
“She didn’t have a lot, but she always made sure to take care of her kids,” Ted McMillan, Namgoong’s brother-in-law, read from a letter written by the family.
Young Kim, the driver of the vehicle struck in the crash, told the judge that his life was forever altered by the accident. Even two years after the collision, Kim leaned heavily on a cane as he walked through the courtroom.
“I lost everything I had,” said Kim, who told the judge that he has battled severe depression since the crash. “I have this burden on me, and I don’t think I can get rid of it for the rest of my life.”
Gurrola had been out drinking with friends at a bar in Newport Beach the night of the crash. After taking a cab to his girlfriend’s house, he drove the two of them in a Honda Civic onto the 241 toll road, heading north in the southbound lanes against oncoming traffic. Several motorists alerted authorities after being forced to swerve off the roadway to avoid the wrong-way car.
He continued onto the wrong side of the 91 freeway, driving east in the westbound lanes, where he struck the Toyota Camry driven by Kim head on. Namgoong, a passenger in the Camry, was pronounced dead at the hospital, while Kim and Gurrola’s girlfriend were seriously injured.
Gurrola reportedly consumed at least nine alcoholic drinks the night of the crash and admitted to authorities after the collision that he knew he wasn’t OK to drive. In November, a jury convicted him of murder and driving under the influence.
Hanson suggested to Gurrola that he find a way to spend some time during his lengthy prison sentence to educate others about the serious consequences of driving under the influence.
“Perhaps that way, the time won’t be in vain if you can convince even one person not to make the choices you made,” the judge said.