Paso Robles woman faces two DUIs after manslaughter conviction

December 16, 2013
Denise Gafner Mendoza

Denise Gafner Mendoza

A Paso Robles woman who served a prison sentence for hitting and killing a tow truck driver while driving high on prescription drugs has had two DUI arrests since her release from lockup. [Tribune]

Denise Gafner Mendoza, 55, is currently in San Luis Obispo County jail on a felony DUI charge from September.

On September 10, 2001, Mendoza crashed into and killed Tanner Rothfleisch, a 20-year-old College Towing employee, who was preparing to hitch a stalled vehicle on the Cuesta grade. Mendoza was on probation for a 1999 DUI at the time.

Mendoza pleaded no contest to gross vehicular manslaughter and received a seven-year prison sentence, although she did not serve the majority of it.

Since her release, officers arrested her for a DUI in 2007 and again in September.

In the 2007 incident, a police officer found Mendoza unconscious in her car with her head on the steering wheel. The car was facing the wrong direction at 13th Street and Riverside Avenue in Paso Robles.

A medic that arrived could only understand one word that she muttered, which was “dilaudid,” a painkiller.

On September 27, 2013, a highway patrol officer pulled her over for swerving on U.S. Highway 101 near the San Anselmo exit in Atascadero.

Mendoza told officers that she was on dilaudid, as well as morphine and other prescription drugs.

Mendoza has pleaded not guilty to the most recent DUI charge and will reappear in court on Jan. 6.



What a vile person to take the life of such a great young man. She needs to be locked up for life so she can’t hurt anyone else. I strongly believe that help can only be given to those who want it & obviously she’s too self indulgent in her own filth to see the pain she cause caused one family & a community of friends & family. Because of Tanner’s death I refuse to get behind the wheel of a vehicle even after one drink. Its too much of a risk to take & its not worth it in the end. I pray that Tanner’s family gets peace & that this woman be put away or out of the realm of society as she doesn’t deserve to have rights if she is not responsible enough to admit she was in the wrong by taking a very valued life if a man who had so much to live for. I pray that karma gets this disgusting excuse of a woman. RIP Tanner


I think this lady needs to be shot! How many chances can one person have?! She obviously isn’t affected or has changed her lifestyle after already taking one innocent life, that had a bright future ahead. She is a waste of taxpayer money and has no hope, a disgrace to humanity! It could be your son/daughter, mom or dad next! Take her out of harms way immediately. Any judge or attorney to let her free is just as sick, they need to take the perspective personally and imagine it is their family member. Being ‘sick’ or ‘mental’ is no excuse! We ALL have issues in our lives, that could make us do crazy things/not think right, but do we put other lives in jeopardy? NO! That is taking the easy route to fail and rely on drugs, it is fixing yourself and getting help that is hardest.


To start, rehabilitation is what she needs so she can begin the process of learning how to deal with the things, including her pain, that are difficult for her and to learn how to take responsibility for her actions. Putting her in jail only will exacerbate the conditions that she lives with AND cost the tax payer a ton of money that could be spent more productive elsewhere. She is not deserving of that kind of monetary support. I vote for the courts to pay for AT LEAST a year of rehabilitative I house services. I am certain she is already on the dole of the tax payers for addiction/ kidney ailment in the way of SSI. So to spend more money in that direction is only adding insult to injury, she’s already proven those type of constraints don’t work for her.


I have had enough of these drunk and altered murderers being on the road. She at least did not injure or kill anyone while she was in jail. Rehab and all the other solutions have not worked and it sounds like her doctor has been an accessory to this and her other crimes. She deserves the living hell she has dealt to other people.


I think she’s added enough insult to injury. After 4 DUIs and one murder, I think enough is enough. She’s proven that she adds nothing to society except being harmful.


Rehab is only successful after they ADMIT they have a problem and WANT the help. She has clearly not taken responsibility for any of her actions and continues to be a threat to anyone she comes in contact with. She needs to be locked up for the rest of her life and maybe one day she will realize what a complete waste she is to society and show some remorse.


Tanner was my brother and not a day goes by that I don’t think of his beautiful smile and

contagious laughter. This woman has broken our hearts and has absolutely no remorse.

While she was in jail for the couple years she did serve, my family received letters from hermother saying that the “victim” in the case was her daughter since her vehicle rolled and she was not given the medical attention she needed. Her mother had the nerve to send my family a letter to let us know that her poor daughter was being harassed by the other women and jail. Her family has enabled her to live the life she has lived and continued to bail her out because in their mind, her actions are never her fault.

The other thing I have found incredibly disturbing is the attorneys who continue to represent this woman. Where is there conscience? There is proof that this lady has an addiction and places no value on human life. She has repeatedly endangered innocent people. What if she killed the brother, son, uncle of one of the attorneys? Would the attorney maybe get off their pedestal and come back down to reality? When will the attorneys finally get enough integrity to say that they will not represent this woman who deserves to be locked in jail for the rest of her life? Are they that desperate for a paycheck?

My hope and prayer is that during this next trial, the judge and jury will review her history and finally realize that this woman deserves nothing more than to spend the rest of her life in jail so she doesn’t hurt anyone else.