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.



I am and will be on pain medicine for the rest of my life. It’s not a fun place to be by any means. I sold my truck, knowing I could never drive it again. I’m not able to turn my head from side to side like I was able to, prior to my neck surgery. That would make me a danger on the road. But the most important reason I sold my truck was because being on pain meds, well, we all know how that would be the exact same thing as driving under the influence. It really doesn’t matter if it’s alcohol or pain meds, under the influence is under the influence. Her car needs to be taken away from her and she needs to be locked up somewhere. She has no conscience and she has proven that she will not change her ways. So because she is in so much pain, she has to cause it on others? I don’t think so.


Now there is someone who is taking responsible actions. This DENISE Mendoza does not have that.


So how do we control the access to a motor vehicle for someone like this person? She is a true danger to society as long as she can get behind the wheel of anything with a motor; revoking her license permanently is no guarantee that she won’t find a car or truck or van somewhere to drive. Locking her up for ever cannot be the best solution either, IMO, due to the overcrowding conditions in prisons, and the expense of keeping her behind bars (salaries for CO officers, clothing, meals, healthcare, etc, etc. …)- so my question is more about trying to come up with something “else”, something different that keeps her out of the driver’s seat and doesn’t add to the burden of our correctional institutions that are pushed and stretched to their limits already.

And I do agree that she has no where near paid any “debt” to society for the murder of the tow truck driver; manslaughter is a classification of murder, since murder is the taking of another person’s life, be it intentional or accidental.

Anyone have any ideas that don’t include simply throwing her in prison and throwing away the key?


If I trusted the quality of our “justice” system a bit more, I would be in favor of a death penalty “points system” similar to the point system used for driving offenses. For crimes short of first degree murder, points would be given base upon the severity of the crime and the likelihood that such a crime would be repeatable (e.g. child molestation). If a person ran up points beyond a certain number, the death penalty would be automatic.

Unfortunately, this would not work as well as I envision it. Our society will not move beyond the mistaken concept of incarceration as the only cure for crime to the reality that honest rehabilitation attempts (for those who have a reasonable chance to succeed) can actually work. Add in our tendency to over-react to every problem by poorly-thought-out laws which create felony crimes out of situations where misdemeanors with mandatory counseling and community service sentences would be more appropriate. Top it off with continuation of our current failure to provide adequate legal consul for the accused who can’t afford it and injustice would be magnified.


I think we need to quit expecting so much of motor law enforcement. They don’t appear to be up to the job, do they? They are overworked and only tag a few people that catch their interest, plus of course grabbing reporters who annoy them (Velie). Otherwise, the populace gets to run wild, drive time after time on painkillers, make their vehicle viciously loud and disturb sleep and thus health (per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Cops turn their heads and pull over NEXT TO nobody on this stuff.

So forget expecting energetic, successful traffic safety law enforcement. Call in a weaving driver, don’t expect much. Call in a vicious, thunderous bike thug ripping up your neighborhood and the INTERIOR of the room where your grandchildren are trying to rest, and you’ll be treated like an oddball complainant.

Get over yourselves. Despite a few dedicated quality officers here and there, the commanders and their $ 100,000+ a year salaries and eventual pensions DO NOT care, and take no action.


Is Denise Gafner Mendoza now part of the Benjamin Mendoza (senior) family of yore?


Citizen, yes it is by marriage


She’s only up for a 7 year sentence that is really equal to 3 years served, and which will probably be commuted to one year because of the prison overcrowding.

If she doesn’t have a driver’s license, she will drive without one. Driving without a license has become commonplace and uncontrolled, and is usually only a misdemeanor.

If she can’t get prescription drugs, she can get heroin on the streets since we don’t control drug smuggling into California .

Her family can’t control her unless they’re allowed to chain her to her bed at night, and chaining someone up is against the law.

So, how do we control people like this who are a danger to everyone?


She needs a lifetime revocation of her drivers license as a start. She has proven, by her actions, that she is a safety hazard for the rest of the world.


??? Because we all know people without drivers license will not drive because it is illegal, you don’t actually believe that would stop her do you?

the guy paso

I’m with you kayak nut, I lean towards jail for as long as the deceased stays dead


Please, permanently remove her from the streets before she kills again.


You communicate well BeenThereDoneThat but, you’d get more traction with your great thoughts without the cuss words hidden in there. Anyhow, she needs to go somewhere that guarantees she never sees the light of free days again!


Only use when I am really pissed off and this pisses me off!!! I would think that you would be more concerned with her actions, than my words.


I read this in the Ragbune last week. She keeps using the excuse that she is in pain and has to take meds. Fine, then when you take your meds, stay the f**k out of your car!!! She has to know by now they affect her and still she continues to drive. She made the choice. Send her a** to jail!!!