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Repeat drunken driver convicted of second-degree murder for Orange crash that killed pedestrian

Orange County Register 3/2/2023 Sean Emery, The Orange County Register

A repeat drunken driver who struck and killed a 19-year-old in a crosswalk in Orange in 2021 and admitted to officers a short time later that he had been “driving crazy” was convicted Wednesday of murder.

An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for a little less than three hours before finding Sitani Pinomi, 40, guilty of second-degree murder, along with several other DUI-related charges, for the May 19, 2021 traffic death of Aden Alexander Uriostegui at the Tustin Street and Heim Avenue intersection.

Uriostegui — who worked at a nearby Starbucks and was heading back to his home in an adjacent neighborhood — was walking within a crosswalk on a green light when a speeding Pinomi slammed into the teen with his Ford F-250 pickup, sending Uriostegui “flying” nearly 200 feet, Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue told jurors during the trial in a Santa Ana courtroom.

Shortly after the collision, Pinomi told officers that he had been out that night at a bar and nightclub in Anaheim celebrating his recent birthday, and had five to seven mixed alcoholic drinks before attempting to drive back to his home in Orange. Pinomi admitted to speeding, and according to prosecutors a blood test taken several hours after the fatal collision found that Pinomi had a blood-alcohol level of 0.10, above the legal limit for driving.

In body-worn camera footage shown during the trial, Pinomi said “I’m (expletive) up” several times when asked if he was feeling the effects of alcohol.

A registered nurse who was driving by the scene of the crash joined a group of Good Samaritans who were trying help Uriostegui, but the teen was pronounced dead a short time after the collision. The nurse testified to seeing an apparently distressed Pinomi standing over the badly injured Uriostegui.

Pinomi previously pleaded no contest to a pair of DUI cases in Los Angeles county from 2006 and 2007 and at the time received a formal warning — known as a Watson Advisement — that driving under the influence is dangerous to human life and that if he continued to do so and struck and killed someone he could be charged with murder.

“He does it over and over and over again,” the prosecutor told jurors. “No one held a gun to his head. There wasn’t an emergency. He wasn’t going to save someone from a burning building. He went out to party.”

Pinomi, during his own courtroom testimony, said another vehicle struck Uriostegui. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Madeline Berkley, acknowledged during the trial that her client had made mistakes, but argued his actions didn’t rise to the level of murder.

Berkley during her own closing arguments on Wednesday morning noted it had been 14 years between the DUI pleas and the fatal collision in Orange, and argued that when Pinomi drove home that night he was not aware of the potential danger to human life.

“You might not like what he did, you might not approve of what happened, you might feel heart-sick about the death of Mr. Uriostegui,” Berkley told jurors. “But that isn’t enough to convict him of murder.”

Pinomi is scheduled to return to court for sentencing on April 28. He faces 15 years to life in prison.

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