After a three-day preliminary hearing, San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill held Lauren Ashley Freeman, 23, to answer for all charges in the Feb. 26, 2018 death of Justin Callahan, 35.
“This was not an accident,” said O’Neill. “When someone drives the wrong way, it is not an accident.”
Freeman is alleged to have driven the wrong way on a transition ramp between Interstate 8 and I-5 around 1:55 a.m. She was also ordered to stand trial for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
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 in an Ocean Beach bar and driving in that condition. Freeman disregarded four signs on the onramp that showed she was driving the wrong say, said Evans.
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, who suffered a broken foot, clavicle and other injuries.
“She knew…what she was doing was dangerous,” said the prosecutor.
Evans said while Freeman was working at an Indian reservation casino, she took a class on alcohol serving training. 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.
CHP officer Brad Clinkscales testified Freeman ran up a large bar tab at an Ocean Beach bar that night and she took a “selfie” while there, which was found on her phone.
Clinkscales testified Freeman scored 100 percent on an exam for alcohol serving training while she worked at the casino. He said there were many photos on her phone that showed her drinking.
Clinkscales said Freeman was at an “Every 15 Minutes” presentation in high school, which taught students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Her attorney argued the class at the high school occurred many years ago when she was 16.
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 coming home from work in Chula Vista 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, who is an operations manager at a Pacific Beach bar, said it appeared to him that Callahan’s Volkswagen Jetta was going the wrong way.
Freeman 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.