Tag Archive for Mission Viejo

Former OC lawyer gets max sentence in drug-fueled death of bike rider

Four years.

That was the sentence a judge finally issued Friday, after repeated delays, for the death of bike rider Eric Billings in Mission Viejo 27 months earlier.

Former immigration attorney Hasti Fahkrai-Bayrooti, who goes by the name of Hayley, had unexpectedly pleaded guilty to a single felony count of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in March of this year.

According to the OC DA’s office, she had a near-lethal dose of Xanax and Suboxone in her system when she ran down Billings’ bike from behind on March 15, 2013, as he rode in a marked bike lane on Santa Margarita Parkway.

My News LA reports that investigators found a bottle of Xanax in her car following the collision; despite being filled just two days earlier, there were already 75 pills missing.

She reportedly ignored several text messages prior to the wreck from friends who begged her to stop driving and sober up. Yet despite claims that she was screaming and “pulling her hair out” following the crash, her first call was to her pharmacist, not 911.

She had faced a possible sentence of 16 months to four years for the conviction. She was also sentenced to an additional three years, to be served concurrently, after being caught with Clonazepam, a sedative used to treat seizures and panic disorder, while she was behind bars.

In addition, Fahkrai-Bayrooti’s license to practice law has been suspended by the California Bar, and stands to be permanently revoked after her sentencing.

My News LA reports that her defense attorney — at least the third one she has had in this case — claimed she had been dependent on prescription drugs since an “early, early age,” and may have early onset dementia as a result.

She expressed remorse at the hearing while pleading for mercy, saying she is no longer in denial about the damage she has caused. Although that denial appeared to be in full force in comments she left on this site just one day after pleading guilty.

A press release from the DA’s office quotes Billing’s wife from the victim’s statements given at an earlier hearing, offering just a hint of the loss her family has suffered.

The victim’s wife said in part, “The void that is left by this tragic and senseless accident is overwhelming. The fact that it isn’t just an accident, but rather an accident committed by one under the influence, is ironic in that Eric never had a drink in his life, would not even take a Tylenol, and would barely take a pain killer after surgery.” She went on to say, “Although I have chosen not to be bitter and have forgiven this woman, I would like her to have consequences for her actions.”

Fahkrai-Bayrooti now faces a long stay in state prison because she didn’t get the help she so clearly needed before she took an innocent man’s life.

Let’s hope she finally gets it while she’s behind bars.

And is never, ever allowed to drive again.

 

Breaking news: OC lawyer guilty in 2013 DUI death of cyclist Eric Billings

Word is just coming in that an Orange County attorney has been convicted in the DUI death of cyclist Eric Billings two years ago.

According to a press release from the OC District Attorney’s office, Hasti Fakhrai-Bayrooti pled guilty to a single felony count of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated on Tuesday.

The DA reports the 41-year old Rancho Santa Margarita woman had prescription drugs — including Xanax and Suboxone — in her system when she ran down Billings’ bike from behind on March 15, 2013, as he rode in a marked bike lane on Santa Margarita Parkway in Mission Viejo.

Fakhrai-Bayrooti was apparently unable to plead down to a lessor charge; she was convicted on the same count she was originally charged with, which is unusual in cases that don’t go to trial.

According to the press release, she is currently out on $100,000 bond, and faces up to four years in state prison when she is sentenced on May 8th.

She also faces possible removal from the state bar following her conviction; she has been an active member of the bar since 2005.

Thanks to Edward Rubinstein, and Amy Senk of Corona del Mar Today for the head-up. (And apologies for misspelling Rubinstein’s name at first.)

 

Justice delayed — OC driver faces charges for killing cyclist last March while on prescription drugs

Six months later, an OC cyclist may finally see justice for the driver who killed him.

According to Rancho Santa Margarita Patch, 39-year old Irvine resident Hasti Fakhrai-Bayrooti was arrested Tuesday on a charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated for the death of cyclist Eric Billings last March.

Billings was riding a cruiser bike in the southbound bike lane on Santa Margarita Parkway, between El Toro Road and Los Alisos Blvd in Mission Viejo around 6:45 pm on Friday, March 15th. Fakhrai-Bayrooti, who goes by the name Hayley, was headed north on Santa Margarita when she missed her turn onto Los Alisos, and made a U-turn at El Toro Road.

Her car drifted into the bike lane, striking Billings from behind and killing him instantly.

Blood tests revealed that she was under the influence of prescription medication at the time of the collision, which she described to Patch last July as an anti-depressant.

“I’ve had illnesses; I was diagnosed with PTSD, OCD,” she said. “I was diagnosed with manic depression and for those I have to take medication or else (I’m) not going to function.” 

And yet, she claims her ability to drive was not impaired by the medication — even though her own description of what happened after her U-turn suggests otherwise.

Next, ”something came into contact with me or I came into contact with something. I don’t know,” she said outside the fountains near Selma’s in RSM.

Her car wouldn’t stop, she said.

“I tried so hard to stop that car,” she said, gesturing as if she were holding a steering wheel and slamming on the brakes. ”The wheel was out of my control. The brake was out of my control.”

Apparently, the car developed a mind of its own, seizing control and running down an innocent victim while she sat helpless behind the wheel.

Yeah, that could happen.

And despite having just made a U-turn, she somehow hit the 54-year old father of four with enough force to kill him instantly; Billings was pronounced dead as soon as rescuers arrived at 6:48 pm.

It wasn’t her first driving infraction; she had previously been charged with speeding over 65 mph and using a hand-held cell phone while driving; no word on whether her car was responsible for those infractions, as well.

Fakhrai-Bayrooti describes herself as devastated by the collision, dropping her legal practice and leaving her car in the police impound lot. She also reports being so depressed that she attempted suicide the week after the collision by taking “everything in the medicine cabinet.”

On the other hand, I doubt her victim’s family took it very well, either. Although, as a devout Mormon, Billings probably would have forgiven her if he could.

However, the Orange County District Attorney’s office doesn’t seem to be so willing to turn the other cheek.

She has been released after posting $100,000 bail.

One last note.

This comment was left on the Patch story of Fakhrai-Bayrooti’s arrest:

…I feel bad for this woman. She had a need for a prescription, and it didn’t impair her or cause her to hit the cyclist. I take thyroid medication; if I get into a car accident, will I be arrested for the same thing? And after reading her blog about the accident, poor thing seemed like she had suffered enough for what she did.

So let’s be absolutely clear.

If your medication affects your ability to drive, then don’t. If you even think you might be impaired, you have both a legal and moral obligation to stay the hell off the road.

Despite the excuses we give ourselves, no one has to drive. And no one has a God given right to be on the roads — especially not when medications or other health factors may make them a danger to others.

If you make a decision to keep driving despite the effects of your medication, you can and should be held accountable for whatever happens as a result. And just because someone denies being impaired, that doesn’t mean they weren’t, as Fakhrai-Bayrooti’s description of the collision suggests.

She may have needed her prescription to function, but should have known it could affect her ability to operate a motor vehicle; there is a reason for those warnings that accompany prescription medicines.

Now a man is dead, and a family forever shattered.

And a woman faces charges for a fatal collision that has left her depressed.

But for which, by her own description, she still hasn’t taken responsibility.

Update: The LA Daily News reports Fakhrai-Bayrooti had two drugs in her system at the time of the collision — anti-anxiety drug Alprazolan, and Buprenorphine, which the paper says is used to treat opiate addictions.

Both medications contain warnings that they can cause drowsiness and dizziness, and not to drive until you know how they affect you. According to the Drugs.com link above, combining the two medications can cause severe drowsiness, as well as severe breathing problems and increased risk of seizures.

Update 2: There have been a few comments, as you can see below, accusing me of bias in this case and demanding changes to this story. 

I stand by everything I have written. However, just to be clear, I am not prejudging this or any other case; my comments are based on what has been published in the press, including comments from the DA’s office. 

Fakhrai-Bayrooti has been charged, but has yet to be tried or convicted. My hope is that she receives the justice she deserves, whether that is conviction or exoneration.

But I repeat, there is no excuse, ever, for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol — including prescription medications — that may prevent you from safely operating a motor vehicle.

If you have to take something, then get someone to drive you, find another means of transportation, or stay home. 

The lives of others depend on it.

Update: Cyclist killed in Mission Viejo

Just got word that a bike rider was killed in Mission Viejo Friday evening.

According to the Orange County Register, the collision occurred around 6:50 pm on the Santa Margarita Parkway, between El Toro Road and Alisos Blvd.

No word on how the wreck happened, or any identity on the victim or driver. The paper reports the victim was pronounced dead at the scene, and that the driver remained onsite following the collision.

A satellite view shows what looks like a ridable shoulder in both directions. However, there’s no indication of which direction the rider was going or where the rider was positioned on the roadway.

The speed limit in that area is 50 mph; a collision at that speed is not likely to be survivable.

This is the eighth bicycling fatality in Southern California this year, and the first in Orange County, which averaged more than one death per month for each of the past two years.

Thanks to Louis Martinet for the heads-up.

Update: The Orange County Register has identified the victim as 58-year old Eric Billings of Rancho Santa Margarita; he was pronounced dead at 6:48. 

According to the paper, Billings was riding in a designated bike lane, rather than a wide shoulder as I had assumed from the satellite photo, when he was struck by a 2003 Acura driven by 39-year old Hasti Fakhrai-Bayrooti.

Mission Viejo Patch places the location as 300 yards south of El Toro Road near Trabuco Hills High School. The site says both the driver and victim were headed southbound on Santa Margarita, suggesting Billings was struck from behind. Alcohol does not appear to be a factor.

What does appear to be a factor is a surface street designed for excessive speed, where drivers typically exceed the already too high speed limit by double digits, and an unprotected bikeway in which a few inches of paint is all that separates riders from those speeding vehicles.

Or as appears to be the case here, doesn’t. 

Witness reports from the SoCal Trail Riders forum said the victim appeared to be riding a beach cruiser, which was badly mangled in the crash, and that skid marks from the car extended up onto the sidewalk. 

My prayers and sympathy for Eric Billings and all his family and loved ones.

Update 2: Friends remember Billings as a compassionate and generous man, dedicated to his faith.

%d bloggers like this: