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Police suspect DUI driver causes fatal east Santa Rosa crash

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A 21-year-old man suspected of driving his Dodge Challenger up to 90 mph in a residential neighborhood while intoxicated crashed into a parked Mazda SUV along an east Santa Rosa street early Monday, killing a woman who had been sleeping inside with her dog.

The crash on Hoen Avenue took place at about 3 a.m. City police officers think the woman, whose name they declined to reveal pending her identification by the county coroner, was in her 50s and died with her pit bull in the impact.

Police arrested Angel Ivan Martinez of Santa Rosa on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with a DUI and two additional felony counts and booked him into Sonoma County Jail on $100,000 bail.

He was speeding in his Challenger at 80 mph to 90 mph on a road in which the speed limit is 35 mph, said Santa Rosa Sgt. Summer Gloeckner.

Martinez was driving east on Hoen Avenue and lost control of his car on a curve near Cypress Way and hit the woman’s SUV.

There were no skid marks indicating that he was braking and so officers suspect he hit her vehicle at full speed, Gloeckner said.

The impact of the collision crushed the Mazda’s back end and sent the vehicle airborne. The SUV hit a power pole and slammed into a tree, before stopping in a front yard. Police based the driver’s excessive speed on the tremendous impact and distance traveled by the woman’s SUV, which stopped some 200 feet beyond the impact, Gloeckner said. An unoccupied Prius parked in front of the woman’s Mazda also got caught in the impact.

Authorities transported Martinez by ambulance to a local hospital where he was treated for minor injuries before he was booked into jail.

First responders found the woman dead in her Mazda.

Police said the SUV was full of her belongings and they believed that she was living out of the vehicle.

One-third of Sonoma County's 3,000 homeless people live out of their vehicles, said Jennielynn Holmes, the chief program officer for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, the region’s largest nonprofit homeless services provider. Last year the percentage was 24 percent and it’s jumped to 29 percent this year, an increase of 21 percent.

Holmes said this is a tragic example of how homelessness is a public health and safety issue. She said homeless people are three or four times more likely to die prematurely than people who have homes.

“This is kind of the heightened risk that happens for people who are living outdoors and in their vehicles,” Holmes said. “Obviously, they don’t have the same protection of people who are housed.”

Police didn’t find an identification on the victim Monday, but officers suspected they know her from crossing paths with her in recent months.

Christina Hall, 36, who lives nearby on Hoen Avenue with her parents, said the victim was a family friend.

Her father met the woman about a year ago, when her car broke down and he helped her, Hall said. Since then, the family had allowed the woman to stay in their home and take showers, do laundry and prepare meals. Hall moved from Texas to her parents’ house about six months ago and then met the woman.

“She wasn’t homeless,” Hall said, noting that the victim lived in the house with her parents.

The woman, however, preferred to sleep in her SUV most nights to keep her dog company, Hall said.

She rescued the dog about eight months ago, but her pet didn’t get along with the other dogs in Hall’s parents’ house. Therefore, the woman chose to keep the dog in her Mazda, Hall said.

The woman last spoke to Hall’s parents a few hours before the crash, when she told them she was going to her SUV but would return to do laundry. The woman never came back, Hall said.

Hall read a news report about the crash Monday morning but didn’t realize that it was the woman her family had welcomed into their Hoen Avenue home until hours later, when a neighbor told Hall’s mother that one of the cars involved in the collision belonged to the woman.

Hall described the victim as a Sonoma County native with relatives in the area.

She didn’t know how long the woman had been living out of her car before the family met her. She said, though, that even on her worst days, the woman stayed positive and tried to make people laugh.

“It’s just weird knowing that I’ll never see her face again,” Hall said.

Monday’s loud crash awakened Hoen Avenue neighbors, bringing some outside to see what had happened.

The residential street typically is lined by parked cars. Of all the vehicles parked along the road, it was horrible that the vehicle hit was one holding a woman sleeping with her dog, Gloeckner said.

“Normally, that time of night, every car parked on that road would be unoccupied. What are the odds?” the sergeant said.

Paula Steiner, a Hoen Avenue resident, was watching television when she heard screeching outside.

“It was terrible,” Steiner said of the crash scene. “I feared it was fatal, the (Mazda) was just mangled.”

Another resident, Mario Contreras, said Monday’s crash was one of several on the block since he moved into the neighborhood seven years ago.

He cited speeding drivers coming off of Highway 12 as a possible explanation for the crashes he’s seen in the area. As a result, none of his family members park on Hoen Avenue and instead choose to find parking on neighboring streets, Contreras said.

Homeless Action co-founder Adrienne Lauby said the woman’s death would be a “blow” to homeless residents because they might have known her and fear that something similar could happen to them.

“People already feel afraid of violence and already feel afraid of death,” Lauby said of the local homeless population. “I just feel very compassionate and hope that people will treat homeless people with particular gentleness because people are going to be grieving.”

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. Reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee. Reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

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