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Santa Rosa woman, 19, died in a rollover crash in Lake County; driver suspected of DUI, vehicular manslaughter

The driver of an off-road vehicle that rolled over in Lake County last month, resulting in the death of a 19-year-old Santa Rosa woman, was arrested on suspicion of two felonies: gross vehicular manslaughter and causing injury while driving under the influence of alcohol, said Officer Joel Skeen of the Clear Lake area CHP.

Athena Karan, of Santa Rosa, was killed on Jan. 16 at the Indian Valley Reservoir, near Clear Lake. Karan was a passenger in a Honda Talon, an all-terrain vehicle driven by Juan Carlos Torres, 28, also of Santa Rosa.

It was Karan’s first time in an off-road vehicle, and the driver was a new friend she did not know well, her mother said. Among the relatives surviving Karan is her maternal grandfather, George Jung, who was played by Johnny Depp in the popular 2001 movie “Blow.”

While traveling in an easterly direction, according to a report from the Lake County CHP, Torres drove over “a large dip in the roadway,” causing him to lose control and the vehicle to roll over.

Karan, sitting in the lap of another passenger, was thrown from the Talon, and sustained major injuries. She died at the scene.

Based on sobriety tests and statements by the driver, it was determined by CHP Officer Greg Buchholz that Torres was operating the Talon “under the influence of an alcoholic beverage,” according to a law enforcement report. Arrested and booked into Lake County Jail, he was released two days later, after posting bail, Lt. Corey Paulich of the Lake County Sheriff’s office said.

On Tuesday, the CHP said it is forwarding the two felony counts against Torres to the Lake County District Attorney’s office. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, in addition to court fines and restitution to the victim's family. Because he was released on bail, Skeen said, Torres has not yet been arraigned or appointed legal counsel.

Torres could not be reached for comment.

“Athena was a beautiful soul,” said her mother, Kristina Jung, who moved to Santa Rosa with her children in 2016, following a divorce. “She loved her younger sister and two brothers immensely.” Because Athena was her oldest child, Jung said in an text exchange, “we had an amazing friendship and bond.”

Kristina Jung is the daughter of George Jung, a prominent figure in the cocaine trade in the United States in the 1970s and ‘80s. Jung, who worked extensively with the Medellin Cartel, specialized in moving large amounts of the drug from Colombia into the U.S., and spent decades in various prisons. Depp played him in the movie “Blow,” a biopic of his life story.

One of the themes of that film is Jung’s strained relationship with his daughter, Kristina, who is now struggling to cope with the loss of her eldest daughter.

Athena Karan had plans to take classes at a beauty college, once the COVID-19 pandemic was over, her mother said. “She loved hiking and going to Bodega Bay and the outdoors,” she said.

But her daughter had not gone off-roading until the last day of her life, said Kristina Jung, who did not know Torres, the driver, “and (I) don’t believe Athena knew him very well, either. This wasn’t her usual group of friends.”

“Athena was a sweetheart,” said Davitri Karan, her paternal grandmother. “She was a good kid.”

Davitri Karan said her granddaughter split time between her mother’s place in Santa Rosa and her father’s in Stockton, in addition to spending some holidays with her paternal grandparents in Pittsburg, in the East Bay.

Athena had aspired to go to college, Davitri Karan said, but the coronavirus postponed those plans.

“It’s really played a part in these kids’ lives,” she said of the virus, “where they’re not able to go to school, so they end up with all these crazy friends.”

“I miss her free spirit and laugh,” said her mother, Kristina Jung, who added she was devastated by her daughter’s death.

“I ask God to please give me the strength I need to accept my new life without Athena,” Jung said.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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