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Ex-UC Santa Cruz student who caused 2016 Highway 1 fatal wreck goes to court

MOSS LANDING – Almost one year ago, a group of UC Santa Cruz students in a Lexus SUV careened into oncoming traffic on Highway 1, killing an oncoming car’s driver and an SUV passenger.

Lynnea Hernandez
Lynnea Hernandez 

Now, the SUV driver’s defense attorney is trying to reduce a charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence to vehicular manslaughter with simple negligence in connection with the double-fatal wreck that occurred about noon March 21, 2016.

The defense will contest evidence – a Snapchat video taken 10 minutes before the wreck – at a hearing slated for 10 a.m. April 28, in Monterey County Superior Court, Monterey defense attorney John Coniglio said. He said the video shows his client, 20-year-old Lynnea Hernandez, dancing and “not paying attention to the roadway.”

Coniglio said her behavior on video did not cause the wreck.

Lynnea Hernandez, then a 19-year-old university sophomore, was driving south on Highway 1 near Molera Road on March 21, 2016, when she threw a cigarette out of the window and accidentally steered into a Mazda 3 driver headed north, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Coniglio said his client had a rib injury that caused her to wince when she threw the cigarette and she turned the steering wheel left abruptly “with a terrible result.”

“It’s our position that this is a terrible, tragic accident,” Coniglio said.

Hernandez, now 20, faces two charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and five charges of reckless driving causing injury. She and six women in the SUV were headed to Big Sur to hike during spring break, Coniglio said. The Mazda’s driver, 24-year-old Nikolas Agustin Malliarodakis, of Prunedale was returning to work in Watsonville after a lunch break when he died in the wreck, his mother told the Sentinel.

Lillianne Scott, a 19 year old from Colorado, died in a hospital two days after the wreck. She was a passenger in the SUV.

Hernandez suffered a lacerated liver and broken back. Her injuries have made it difficult for her to walk, Coniglio said.

Charges of driving under the influence were dropped in December after test results were negative for pain medications and inconclusive for marijuana.

Hernandez no longer attends UCSC and was expelled in light of the DUI charges. She has been free from the Monterey County Jail since posting $3 million bail.

Coniglio said there is a “huge distinction” between gross negligence and simple negligence. Gross negligence would constitute blatant misconduct, such as driving 100 mph against the flow of traffic, he said.

A mother’s perspective

Veronica Ramirez is the mother of Malliarodakis, the driver killed in the Mazda. She said the Snapchat video should be upheld as evidence as gross negligence. She said the family needs more information about the case and challenges the inconclusive drug-test results for marijuana.

“Isn’t that proof enough?” she asked. “A year later, she still gets to walk free. It’s not an accident. It seems like she’s getting away with this after the DUI charge was dropped.”

A mass is scheduled 5 p.m. Tuesday at St Patrick’s Church in Watsonville in honor of Malliarodakis.

“It’s torture for this family that this has gone on this long,” Ramirez said. She said her son was a poet, musician and outdoorsman. “No parent should have to go through something like this.”