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Plea agreement reached for fatal DUI
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A Modesto man who had been facing murder charges for a drunk driving collision, entered into a plea deal with prosecutors that will send him to prison for the next 13 years.

Elder Rigaberto Yupe, 24, entered a no contest plea on Thursday to a single charge of gross vehicular manslaughter, along with three enhancements of causing great bodily harm while driving under the influence. He also pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of driving on a suspended license.

The charges against Yupe stem from a fatal driving under the influence collision late one July night in 2009 that killed one woman and injured three.

Yupe was driving a 1995 Dodge Neon southbound on Highway 99 approaching the Monte Vista Avenue exit in Turlock. According to the report from the California Highway Patrol, witnesses said Yupe was weaving through the lanes at speeds up to 85 mph.

Speeding down the fast lane, Yupe neared a 2000 Toyota 4Runner that was traveling in the middle lane at about 65 mph. The CHP reported that Yupe’s vehicle veered slightly into the middle lane and struck the back end of the Toyota.

The impact sent the Toyota careening across the freeway and down the embankment at Monte Vista Avenue, where it proceeded to roll several times before coming to a stop.

The driver of the Toyota, 56-year-old Yolanda Fuentes, sustained fatal injuries from the crash and was pronounced dead at the scene. One passenger in the Toyota suffered two broken legs and the other two had moderate to minor injuries.

According to the court record, Yupe’s blood alcohol level was recorded at .21 percent, more than double the legal limit of .08 percent. Yupe also has a prior conviction for driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license.

As part of the plea deal, Yupe will be sentenced to the maximum of 10 years for the gross vehicular manslaughter charge and one additional year for each enhancement, for a total of 13 years. For the misdemeanor charge, he’ll get 180 days, which will run consecutive to the prison term. Additionally, he waived 11 months time he had accumulated for good behavior and work credits and gives up his right to appeal.

The actual sentencing hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Stanislaus County courthouse, where the victims and Fuentes family members or friends can deliver a victim’s impact statement if they so choose.

Yupe’s conviction will give him one strike, which would make any future driving under the influence arrests a felony.

Yupe was one of three recent individuals in Stanislaus County who had been facing murder charges in relation to fatal drunk driving collisions. In order to prove a murder charge, the district attorney’s office would have to show that the defendant acted with a willful disregard for human life and that he knew his actions would result in a fatal outcome.

“Every case has its own set of facts and its own set of issues,” said Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne, who prosecuted the case against Yupe. “Given his record, the facts of the collision, and his willingness to take the deal with the maximum penalty, made this an appropriate resolution to the case.”

Of the other two individuals who were also facing murder charges from their drunk driving collisions, Jennifer Cowgill pled no contest to gross vehicular manslaughter and hit and run and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A preliminary hearing for Craig Kyle Nelson found there was enough evidence to pursue a murder charge and he is currently awaiting trial.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.