MADERA – A Madera County Superior Court judge has sentenced Justin Rice to 96-years-to-life in prison for the 2009 head-on collision that killed three Chukchansi casino employees on Highway 41.
Rice, who was 32 at the time of the crash, was found guilty on Jan. 2, 2013, of three felony counts of second degree murder, three felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, one count of felony driving under the influence causing injury, and two misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest.
On Aug. 20, 2009, Rice, of Ventura, California, was driving southbound on Highway 41 near the 22-Mile House when he crashed head-on into a car containing five women who were carpooling to work at the casino.
Three of those women perished in the crash; Elena Mendoza, Maria Rodriguez and Estella Frias, all in their thirties, all from Madera.
CHP had received reports that Rice was swerving all over the road, driving in a reckless and erratic manner. One officer on the scene said Rice was so high he had no idea that he had even been in an accident.
Rice was later determined to be under the influence of methamphetamine, was taken to the emergency room at Madera Community Hospital where he tried to escape, and fought the officers attempting to restrain him.
Rice was charged with three counts of second degree murder, together with special allegations for having suffered a prior strike and for failure to remain free of prison for five years.
Rice’s sentencing was delayed due to his attempts to receive a new trial and minimize his sentence, which was opposed by the District Attorney’s Office. This came to a conclusion on Friday, Jan. 24, when a Madera Superior Court judge handed down the sentence that will put Rice in prison, basically for the rest of his life, taking into consideration the special allegation that Rice previously had a prior strike conviction under California’s Three Strikes Law, and a further allegation that Rice committed other crimes for which he spent time in prison.
“The deaths of three victims in this case is a tragic consequence of Rice’s choice to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs,” said District Attorney Michael Keitz. “Those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs need to know that we will continue to vigorously prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”