In only the second case of its kind in Clark County, a woman suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana is facing a second-degree murder charge in connection with a crash that killed an 8-year-old boy.
The amended criminal complaint adding the charge against Aylin Alderette, 25, was filed Friday in Las Vegas Justice Court, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson announced. She was originally charged with three felony counts of both DUI resulting in death or substantial bodily harm and reckless driving in connection with the Aug. 31 wreck.
Initially facing two to 20 years in prison if convicted, Alderette now faces a minimum sentence of 10 years to life if she is convicted on the murder charge, Wolfson said. Her bail also was raised Friday from $250,000 to $1 million.
“It was 15 days ago that 8-year-old Levi Echenique was tragically murdered,” Wolfson said during a news conference Friday at the Regional Justice Center. “Anytime you drive in a manner as this defendant did, by traveling an excess of 100 mph, weaving in and out of travel lanes, running red lights in or near school zones, while under the influence of drugs, that is an example of such a degree of recklessness that elevates this to an abandoned and malignant and depraved heart. That’s why this is a murder case.”
She was traveling so fast that she broke her foot trying to stop her car, police said.
Pausing briefly before lifting up a photo of a mangled silver SUV, Wolfson said slowly, “This is what happened to young Levi as a result of this defendant’s actions.”
Levi’s parents, Briejet and Jose Echenique, also were injured in the crash. The family had to be extricated from their Dodge Avenger, which was left door-less on its passenger side by first responders.
Toxicology results showed that Alderette was under the influence of marijuana, Wolfson and Metropolitan Police Department traffic Capt. Nick Farese announced Friday. In her arrest report, investigators said she demonstrated “slow reflexes by only slowing down to 81 mph for a red light that had been red for approximately three seconds.”
The unusual charge comes less than a year after 47-year-old Ronald Leavell became the first DUI suspect to be charged with second-degree murder in Clark County. He also is accused of driving while high on marijuana.
The crash happened May 9, 2017, when Leavell allegedly blew through a stop sign and plowed into a Ford Fiesta driven by Gerardo Villicana Jr. The 26-year-old father of two died at the scene from blunt force injuries.
His murder charge was still pending Friday “due to competency issues,” Farese said.
In one of the most known marijuana-related crashes in state history, Jessica Williams was convicted in 2001 of six counts of felony driving with a prohibited substance in her blood in connection with the deaths of six teenagers who were working on a road crew on Interstate 15. The high-profile case did not result in murder charges.
A blood test following the crash detected that Williams had trace elements of marijuana in her system. But on Friday, Wolfson stressed that Alderette’s DUI charges stemmed from evidence which shows that showed she was high “in excess of the tolerable limits” at the time of crash.
Following the announcement of Leavell’s murder charge last year, Las Vegas attorney John Watkins, who represented Williams, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he had never seen a murder charge attached to a DUI case.
Watkins could not be reached for comment Friday, but said at the time that although murder charges typically follow an intentional act, there are situations where a willful disregard of others can lead to a murder charge. It’s called a “depraved heart” scenario, and he likened it to a person who drops bricks off a tall building without caring about who may be below.
Farese, who responded to the scene of the Aug. 31 crash and has been part of the investigation from the beginning, called the murder charge a “wake-up call” for the community. He said Metro’s traffic investigation team worked tirelessly to provide the district attorney’s office a case that would result in prosecution.
Police have said that the investigation was a combination of math and science. Data downloaded from Alderette’s car showed she was driving 103 mph before allegedly running a red light at Eastern and Harmon avenues — a 45 mph zone — and striking the Echenique family’s vehicle with her red Chevrolet Camaro.
Farese said he and his team also retraced Alderette’s route. They determined that she had been driving near or at that speed for at least 10 minutes before crashing. At over 100 mph, Alderette would have covered a large distance before crashing, he added.
“Levi didn’t die in vain,” Farese said, glancing at the boy’s family, who stood nearby as he, Wolfson and Chief Deputy District Attorney Eric Bauman spoke to reporters. Family members declined to comment, but Bauman said that they were “in full support” of the new charge against Alderette.
Bauman, who will be the front-line prosecutor in the case, added, “We have to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. That starts now.”
Alderette remained in custody Friday at the Clark County Detention Center and is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing Sept. 24. Wolfson said that she appeared to be remorseful, adding that she has been placed on suicide watch.
A GoFundMe page titled For the Love of Levi has been set up to assist with funeral and medical costs.
Murder charges in fatal DUIs outside Clark County
On March 29, three Las Vegas teens were killed in a fiery Pacific Coast Highway crash police say was caused by a California woman who is accused of driving drunk.
Bani Duarte, 27, of San Clemente, California, was initially arrested on charges of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter and was later rebooked on three counts of murder.
Centennial High School students Dylan Mack, A.J. Rossi and Brooke Hawley were in California for spring break.