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CHP recommends prosecuting driver who rear-ended car, killing 5 in family, maiming child


The CHP has completed a 10-month investigation into a fiery crash on Highway 101 that claimed the lives of five family members and badly burned a 5-year-old boy, recommending that the driver who struck their car face charges.

CHP Officer Barbara Upham said Wednesday the report was turned over to the Sonoma County district attorney. She would not detail what charges were recommended for Ryan Karr, 26, whose Mitsubishi coupe smashed into the back of the Honda Civic during the evening commute Jan. 19.

"That's up to the D.A.'s office to make the final determination," Upham said.

The district attorney's spokeswoman, Donna Edwards, declined to comment on what charges Karr may face.

"We just have started reviewing it," she said. "We would not speculate on a pending case."

At the crash scene, on Highway 101 north of Airport Boulevard, rescuers pulled Christian Flores Carlos, 5, of Windsor from the burning vehicle.

But the driver, Edith Carlos Medina, 23, his mother, suffered fatal injuries.

So did his grandmother Maria Lopez Camacho, 54; brother, Fernando Flores Carlos, 7; and aunts Almadelia Mendera-Basurto, 16, and Carmina Solorio, 23.

Solorio was from Mexico. The others were from Windsor.

"This accident changed the lives of everyone in my family," said Christian's aunt Francisca Jimenez, concurring with the CHP's recommendation. "All of us who drive need to be aware of the consequences. My whole family died. This could happen to others."

The multi-agency investigation involved coroner's reports, accident reconstruction, testing of a blood sample Karr voluntarily submitted, and interviews with drivers, witnesses and citizens who tried to help the victims, Upham said.

With "something as extensive as this, involving multiple fatalities, the investigation becomes much more thorough and the interviews much more extensive," she said. "There were people on scene we could never identify, but we pursued every avenue in terms of identifying witnesses on the scene."

Christian spent months in Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento, a pediatric burn center where he underwent reconstructive surgery. Doctors amputated his right arm just below the elbow, and his right leg just above his knee, relatives said.

Today, Christian is attending kindergarten in Sonoma County and being cared for by an aunt, according to Santa Rosa attorney Patrick Emery, who represents the family.

Emery said he's eager to review the CHP's findings on their behalf.

"We all see significant rear-end impacts on the freeway every day, but it's very rare that a car virtually explodes the way this one did," Emery said, referring to the Civic. "We want to figure out what happened here."

Karr's attorney, Andy Martinez, said his client remains distraught over the crash. He said Karr has found it difficult to move forward.

"It's the waiting that causes the most destruction for him -- the not knowing," Martinez said Wednesday. "Not knowing if you're going to be charged with possibly multiple felonies weighs heavily on how you conduct your life."

Karr cooperated with authorities from the beginning, Martinez said, submitting to alcohol tests and interviews in the hours after the crash.

Shortly after the crash, a CHP spokeswoman said it didn't appear Karr was behaving recklessly, but that he may have been speeding and momentarily distracted.

When his 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse collided with the 1992 Honda, Karr estimated, he was traveling about 30 to 40 mph.

But some witnesses estimated his speed was as fast as 70 mph.

Officers interviewed Karr extensively after the crash and he was cooperative and remorseful, the CHP said at the time.

Prosecutors will now assess the information from law enforcement and determine whether they believe they can prove to a jury that Karr broke any laws.

Charges could include vehicular manslaughter, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony.

The difference would be in the level of negligence authorities believe Karr displayed.

Fatal crashes involving ordinary carelessness or mistakes in judgment -- not involving drugs, alcohol or extreme speeding -- can be filed as misdemeanors.

Those charged as felonies must include showing "gross negligence," legally defined as more than ordinary carelessness that a reasonable person would understand creates a high risk of death or injury.

Staff Writer Martin Espinoza contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writers Katy Hillenmeyer at 521-5274 or katy.hillenmeyer@pressdemocrat.com, and Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or lori.carter@press democrat.com.