Austin Jeffrey Farley (49868)

LOS ANGELES, Calif., – A 28-year-old man faces 15 to 21 years to life in prison today for a drunken driving crash that killed a 14-year-old girl and injured four others in Irvine two years ago.

Austin Jeffrey Farley was convicted of second-degree murder last month for the May 29, 2011, crash that killed 14-year-old Ashton Sweet.

Farley’s attorney contended his client did not cause the crash because he was punched by his passenger just before the collision.

The verdict was announced Oct. 7 on what would have been Ashton’s 17th birthday, according to her mother.

“We really appreciate the work the District Attorney’s Office put in, and certainly the jury as well,” a tearful Elizabeth Sweet said outside court last month. “Beyond that, we just need time to process this. We’re numb.”

Farley was convicted of second-degree murder, driving under the influence causing injury and driving with a blood-alcohol level in excess of the legal limit of .08 percent causing injury, along with a sentence-enhancing allegation of inflicting great bodily harm.

In 2004, Farley was convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than of .05 percent, the legal limit for underage drivers, Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino said. The defendant was also convicted of drunken driving in 2009, after his parents called police and told them he was angrily pursuing them and driving on the wrong side of the road, Pino said.

In the current case, Farley was charged with second-degree murder instead of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter because a judge warned him in 2009 that he would be charged with murder if he got into a drunken driving wreck in which someone died, Pino said.

Although his trial was held in Westminster, Farley’s sentencing was scheduled in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Brandlin presided over the case because all of Orange County’s judges recused themselves.

Jessica Rodriguez, the defendant’s ex-girlfriend and daughter of Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis Rodriguez, was a passenger in Farley’s truck at the time of the collision.

Ashton was one of four teenage girls in a Mercedes-Benz driven by Mohammad “Mike” Ghaemi that collided with Farley’s Dodge Dakota at Culver Drive and Irvine Boulevard about 1:15 a.m. that Sunday during Memorial Day weekend.

The girls had been drinking and smoking marijuana at a birthday party before the crash, Pino said. Earlier that night, Farley and Rodriguez took a cab to a bar, where the defendant drank for a couple of hours, the prosecutor said.

They took a cab back to his truck and Farley was driving south on Culver, making a left onto Irvine Boulevard, when his vehicle slammed into the Mercedes-Benz, sending it into a light pole, Pino said.

Ashton, who was not wearing a seat belt, was slammed into the car’s windshield, according to Pino, who said Farley and Rodriguez made no attempt to help the victims.

Farley initially denied drinking and refused a blood test, according to Pino, who said a blood test more than 90 minutes after the crash showed Farley’s blood-alcohol was 0.20 percent. Farley also had Clonazepam, an anti-anxiety drug, in his system that intensifies the effects of alcohol, he said.

Defense attorney Calvin Schneider insisted, however, that his client had the green light and did not cause the crash.

Farley, a 2003 graduate of Northwood High School, where Ashton was a freshman cheerleader, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as being bipolar, anxious and depressed, Schneider said. He also has obsessive-compulsive disorder, his attorney said.

Farley and Rodriguez were arguing and she punched him in the neck or head just before the collision, Schneider said.