Santa Maria man convicted of murder over Nipomo DUI crash that killed teen

February 1, 2024

Earnesto Nava Herrera


A San Luis Obispo County jury has convicted a Santa Maria man of second-degree murder for driving intoxicated and in the wrong direction on Highway 101 in Nipomo and killing a 14-year-old.

On the night of March 27, 2021, while driving heavily intoxicated, Earnesto Nava Herrera collided with 70 feet of metal pipe fencing and knocked over a tree, according to the SLO County District Attorney’s Office. He fled the scene in his vehicle and drove onto Highway 101 from Tefft Street headed in the wrong direction. 

As he was entering the highway on the off-ramp, Herrera nearly collided with a vehicle that was exiting the freeway. The oncoming driver managed to swerve to avoid a head-on collision.

Herrera continued to accelerate northbound on Highway 101, driving against the flow of traffic. He then crashed head on into a Honda driven by Jose Cruz Jr.

Cruz and a female passenger suffered major injuries. The crash ejected a 14-year-old passenger from Cruz’s car. The teen died at the scene. 

The collision disabled Herrera’s vehicle. The Santa Maria man fled the scene of the crash by foot. 

About an hour after the fatal collision, CHP officers located Herrera by using a helicopter with infrared technology. Herrera had been crawling near the highway in an apparent attempt to avoid detection.

Nearly 2.5 hours after the crash, Herrera had a blood alcohol level of .164. more than twice the legal limit.

On Dec. 31, 2020, just three months before the fatal collision, officers arrested Herrera for DUI and read him an admonition saying, “Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and as a result of that driving, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder.”

In the aftermath of the Nipomo crash, prosecutors charged Herrera, 27, with murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit-and-run causing death, driving while under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury and driving on a suspended license. The jury convicted the Santa Maria man on all counts.

Herrera faces life in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for March 5 in the courtroom of Judge Michael S. Frye.

“This is a terrible, yet completely avoidable tragedy,” Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth said in a statement. “As this incident so heartbreakingly illustrates, driving while impaired puts every life on the roadway in peril. We are committed to the aggressive prosecution of those driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in our community and will charge murder when appropriate. We thank the jury for their focused attention and recognize the psychological impact of serving on a case as tragic as this.”


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