FRESNO – A young woman linked to the Greyhound bus collision that resulted in the deaths of six people last year will be arraigned next month on charges relating to the accident.
On July 22, 2010, 18-year-old Sylvia Garay lost control of the Chevy Trailblazer she was driving on northbound Highway 99 near McKinley Avenue. A Greyhound bus full of passengers slammed into the out-of-control Trailblazer, killing Garay and her two passengers, 20-year-old Stephanie Cordoba, and 19-year-old Vanessa Gonzalez, both of Fresno.
The collision also resulted in the deaths of bus driver James Jewett, 57, and two passengers, Epifania Solis, 60, of Madera, and Tomas Ponce, 79, of Winton. The crash injured 22 other people.
A report by the Fresno County Coroner’s Office showed that Garay had a blood-alcohol level of .11, which is more than the legal limit of .08 for people 21 and over.
Cole is the only person being charged in relation to the crash. A warrant served for her arrest said that hours before the crash, Cole let Garay and the two other underage girls pick out alcoholic beverages at the A-1 Liquor store at Shields and Maroa avenues. The girls put the beverages on the counter, which included bottles of vodka and Four Loko, and then Cole paid for them.
According to the warrant, Cole knew her friends were underage and said that she bought the alcohol. The warrant also stated that a surveillance camera recorded her purchasing the liquor.
“It was an 18-year-old girl who created the situation behind the wheel,” said District Attorney Elizabeth Egan. “It was the 21-year-old who provided alcohol to that girl.”
The strongest charge the district attorney could file against Cole was a misdemeanor.
“In Fresno County, individuals who provide alcohol to minors will be held responsible not only for jeopardizing the safety of that underage drinker, but the safety of our entire community,” Egan said.
There was not enough evidence to file charges against the liquor store where the alcohol was purchased, Egan said. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is investigating the owner of the store for allowing alcohol to be purchased on behalf of minors, an official from the department said.
There also wasn’t enough evidence to file charges against anyone at the party that Garay had attended before the accident happened. However, Fresno police did issue a citation to the host of the party. Brandon Dayre McCullough Jr., 22, of Fresno is accused of hosting a party where underage people were drinking alcohol, according to the police department. He was cited this week for violating a city ordinance.
The DA’s office will also not file criminal charges against Starline, a club in Fresno that Garay and her friends had been at before the accident. Investigators determined that Garay hadn’t consumed any alcohol at the club. After the accident, the city of Fresno shut down the club’s 18-and-over night.
Cole will be arraigned on her misdemeanor charge on Aug. 23.
Victoria Flores, a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has some advice for anyone who is asked to buy alcohol for minors.
“Make the right choice,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re getting money or being enticed, don’t do it. Think about the consequences.”