First published in the Dec. 18, 2021, print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Authorities this week charged a driver, whom police allege killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence, with manslaughter and felony hit and run.
The driver, whom the Burbank Police Department identified as 49-year-old Granada Hills resident Jesse Molina, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to three felonies: gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person and driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury. His bail was set at $2 million.
Authorities have not identified the 23-year-old crash victim, whom the BPD allege Molina struck and killed on Dec. 10 as she was crossing the street.
The incident marks the seventh fatal traffic collision recorded by the BPD this year, according to Sgt. Emil Brimway of the BPD. Sgt. Fletcher Stone, a supervisor with the BPD’s traffic bureau, said in an October Police Commission meeting that there were three lethal collisions in both 2020 and 2019, two in 2018, five in 2017 and two in 2016.
Molina allegedly instigated a multi-vehicle accident on the northbound 5 Freeway south of Burbank at about 9:25 p.m. that night, Police Chief Michael Albanese told the City Council on Tuesday. He then reportedly drove away from the collision, exiting the freeway at Empire Avenue and “traveling at a high rate of speed” on San Fernando Boulevard, the BPD said in a statement. Albanese also claimed that Molina’s black Lexus sedan hit a center median on that street.
The BPD reported that Molina then struck a pedestrian at San Fernando and Delaware Road, despite the presence of a red traffic light. Molina, Albanese alleged, continued driving until his vehicle collided with the curb in front of Macy’s.
Brimway told the Leader that police believe the woman was carried by the vehicle for some distance, though he did not know how far. The crash victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
Molina exited his vehicle and tried to run, Albanese alleged, but officers arrested him. The California Highway Patrol is conducting a separate investigation for the freeway collision, he added, noting that he did not believe anyone had been hospitalized as a result of that crash.
“Unsettling is an understatement,” Albanese said Tuesday, “and our hearts and prayers are with her family. … But please understand that it was driving under the influence that was the primary cause, not necessarily speeding.”
Albanese’s comments appeared to reference renewed concerns from Burbank community members regarding speeding on local streets. BPD officials have said the department’s data suggests traffic collisions occur less frequently than in previous years. But a fiery crash on Glenoaks Boulevard that killed three people earlier this year spurred calls to address reckless driving after authorities said the collision was caused by two other vehicles that were street racing.
— City News Service contributed to this report