Man sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for fatal Nipomo DUI crash

March 15, 2024

Earnesto Nava Herrera


A San Luis Obispo County judge sentenced a Santa Maria man to 21 years and 8 months to life in prison for a second-degree murder conviction and other offenses stemming from him driving intoxicated and in the wrong direction on Highway 101 in Nipomo, killing a 14-year-old boy.

On the night of March 27, 2021, while driving heavily intoxicated, Earnesto Nava Herrera, now 27, 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 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.

Following a nearly three-week trial, on Jan. 30, 2024, a SLO County jury convicted Herrera on all counts. Herrera also pleaded no contest to possession of child pornography, which investigators found on his phone during the homicide investigation.

Then this month, a judge sentenced the Santa Maria man to 6 years and 8 months, plus 15 years to life behind bars. 

At the sentencing hearing, the victim’s mother delivered a statement describing her son.

“My son…”J”, was an only child, a miracle boy and he had many dreams and aspirations,” the mother said. “He was a very ambitious 14-year-old, enjoyed soccer, and was an avid reader. He loved to travel and had been to Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, and many states in the U.S., and he loved Disneyland. He was a pleasure to be around, and he was loved by many. He loved math, physics, and science. He was a 4.0 student and was en route to be valedictorian of his class. He aspired to be an engineer and hoped someday to be a Nobel prize winner. He loved sea otters, and he had a best friend, Oddy. He looked forward to summer Christian camp and spending time with his cousins. He also enjoyed summer school and math enrichment and spending time with his friends. “J” will be missed every day and remembered forever.”

Following Herrera’s sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth also issued a statement.

“This is a terrible, yet completely avoidable tragedy,” Dobroth said in the statement. “As this incident so heartbreakingly illustrates, driving while impaired puts every life on the roadway in peril. We will aggressively prosecute drunk or drugged drivers in our community and will charge murder when appropriate. We are hopeful that completion of the criminal case will provide family and friends the space necessary to begin healing.”


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What a sick human you are, Earnesto.