LASD Deputy Pleads No Contest in Deadly Crash


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TORRANCE (CNS) - A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy pleaded no contest Wednesday to charges stemming from an off-duty crash in Torrance that killed his 23-year-old passenger and seriously injured two other people in the vehicle.

Daniel Manuel Auner, now 25, is facing 13 years in state prison in connection with his plea to one count each of voluntary manslaughter and gross vehicular manslaughter and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

The charges stem from a crash just after midnight July 8, 2020 that killed Ashley Wells, 23, who died from traumatic injuries.

Auner was initially charged in May 2021 with murder and reckless driving on a highway causing injury. Those charges are expected to be dismissed as a result of his plea, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Auner was driving 116 mph when his Dodge Charger struck the center median, and the vehicle was traveling at least 71 mph when it struck a traffic pole at the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and 190th Street, according to stipulations between the prosecution and the defense during a December 2021 hearing in which he was ordered to stand trial.

Two other people in the vehicle suffered multiple injuries that resulted in one of them being hospitalized for 22 days and the other being hospitalized for 10 days, according to the stipulations.

"It was a pretty chaotic scene," Torrance Police Officer Brooks Wing, who responded to the crash scene, testified at the December 2021 hearing.

The officer told a judge that he spoke with Auner, who told him that he slammed on his brakes and lost control of the vehicle after being caught off- guard by the curve of the road ahead. The defendant -- who had a gash on his forehead -- said he wasn't sure how fast he was driving, according to Wing.

The officer said he didn't smell any alcohol and was concentrating his efforts on getting medical assistance for those who needed it.

Detective Robert Schuffman of the Torrance Police Department, who investigated the crash, testified that he observed 398 feet of skid marks and subsequently concluded that the vehicle had been traveling at an "unsafe speed" on the street that has a posted speed limit of 45 mph.

A test performed of Auner's blood-alcohol content about 1 1/2 hours after the crash measured .077, according to a stipulation between the prosecution and the defense. That is just under the amount considered legally impaired.

One of Auner's attorneys told a judge at the hearing in 2021 that there was evidence of drinking but "no evidence of intoxication," adding that two officers concluded that the cause of the crash was "unsafe speed and unsafe speed only."

Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Miyata countered that Auner had a "heightened knowledge" of the dangers of drinking and speeding because of his work and had been "drinking alcohol all evening."

Superior Court Judge Alan Honeycutt noted at the 2021 hearing that a law enforcement officer would have specialized training about alcohol and speeding and said the evidence suggested that the defendant was "racing another vehicle."

Honeycutt added that testimony indicated that Auner had disengaged the safety systems of his "muscle" car -- something the detective said would take away the ability to help control the vehicle.

Auner was initially jailed in lieu of $1 million bail after his May 25, 2021, arrest by Torrance police, but was released from custody just over two weeks later after his bail was reduced to $100,000 with the conditions that he undergo electronic monitoring and not drive a motor vehicle or consume any alcohol.

Auner's "peace officer powers continue to be suspended since July 2020" and he is currently "relieved of duty without pay," according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

He is due back in a Torrance courtroom for sentencing June 16.

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