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Investigators are working to determine what crimes, if any, occurred last Friday when one car rear-ended another on Highway 101, causing a fiery crash that killed five people and severely burned a 5-year-old boy.

The CHP said it may be weeks before investigators determine whether there is evidence that Ryan Karr, 26, of Windsor acted illegally or with criminal negligence when his Mitsubishi coupe rear-ended a stopped Honda Civic during rush-hour traffic just north of the Airport Boulevard overpass.

Karr, who voluntarily submitted to alcohol tests the night of the crash, hasn't been cited or arrested in connection with the crash. Officers said he was cooperative and remorseful at the scene and has accepted counseling from law enforcement chaplains.

Karr reportedly told officers he wasn't paying attention when his car struck the Honda, which caught fire and trapped six people inside - a grandmother, two young brothers, their mother and two aunts.

Only 5-year-old Christian Flores Carlos survived. He is being treated for severe burns at a Sacramento hospital.

Killed were Maria Lopez Camacho, 54, Fernando Flores Carlos, 7, and Almadelia Mendera-Basurto, 16, all of Windsor, and Carmina Solorio, 23, of Mexico. The boys' mother, Edith Carlos Medina, 23, of Windsor, was pulled from the burning wreckage along with Christian, but died the following day.

CHP spokeswoman Officer Barbara Upham said investigators are talking to witnesses, looking into Karr's history and checking all aspects of the crash before determining whether to recommend any criminal charges.

The results will be forwarded to the District Attorney's Office, which will determine whether criminal charges are warranted - most likely some form of vehicular manslaughter.

A prosecutor and an investigator from the District Attorney's Office were at the scene offering legal support, Assistant District Attorney Larry Scoufos said.

"They wouldn't necessarily arrest somebody that committed a misdemeanor if they thought there weren't enough facts to establish at that time that a felony offense had been committed," he said. "Unless we can establish gross negligence, with no alcohol or drugs onboard, the only other offense is a misdemeanor."

Karr, who has retained a defense attorney, hasn't spoken publicly about the incident.

"He is completely devastated that this accident did occur. He is willing to cooperate with everyone in regards to this, but we have advised him not to say anything," said Jim Baker, a private investigator who works with Karr's attorney, Andy Martinez.

"He is really suffering. He's going through counseling. He's had nightmares," Martinez said. "He was actually trying to help the driver at the scene. He thought she'd expired at the scene and he can't get that image out of his head."

Martinez said he has prepared Karr for the possibility of criminal charges.

"But based on what he's told me and what I've seen in the media, it doesn't appear there were any factors that would elevate this to a felony," he said.

Karr pleaded no contest in Sonoma County to misdemeanor driving without a license in 2001 and felony receiving stolen property in 2002. He paid $260 in fines in the 2001 case and served less than a year in jail on the stolen property case.

Baker said Karr has matured in the past four years.

"He does have a past. That didn't contribute to this accident," he said. "He did get in some trouble. He made it through that. He's not continued to have that same track record."

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Once prosecutors receive police reports from the CHP, they will evaluate Karr's complete driving history and make a determination if he acted negligently, and if so, whether his actions were "grossly negligent."

That would make the difference between a felony or a misdemeanor case, Sonoma County Public Defender John Abrahams said.

Gross negligence is legally defined as "more than ordinary carelessness, inattention or mistake in judgment," he said. A person acts with gross negligence when he or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury, and a reasonable person would have knowledge that acting in that manner would have created such a risk.

"Let's say you're going 70 mph - is that far beyond the pale? How about 110? Maybe then you'd have gross negligence," he said. "But at 70 and with inattention, maybe you have only regular negligence, which would make it a misdemeanor... . That's really a question for a jury to decide."

Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is punishable either by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four or six years.

Vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.

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