SJ man charged with vehicular manslaughter turns himself in

Dennis Leffew has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in the Nov. 6 car crash that killed Gavilan College student Andrel Gaines. 

UPDATE: Dennis Leffew, the San Jose driver who was recently charged with vehicular manslaughter in the Nov. 6 crash that killed Gavilan College basketball player Andrel Gaines, turned himself in Monday and is being held on a $250,000 bail in the San Mateo County Jail, according to Karen Guidotti, chief deputy with the San Mateo County DA’s Office. 

“It appears that (Leffew and his lawyer) learned that there was an arrest warrant in the system, and then they came to court and surrendered on Monday,” said Guidotti. 

Leffew appeared at his arraignment Monday at the San Mateo County DA’s Office in Redwood City. His plea hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. April 4, according to Guidotti. 

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New developments surrounding the tragedy of Andrel Gaines – the Gavilan College basketball player who died following a horrific Nov. 6 car accident on U.S. 101 – could spell a maximum 15-year prison sentence for San Jose driver Dennis Leffew if convicted of charges levied against him by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office last week.

Leffew, the 43-year-old driver who crashed his Nissan 300ZX into the Cadillac sedan that was carrying 19-year-old Andrel Gaines and four other friends around 1:30 a.m. Nov. 6 is charged with:

– Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence

– Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs causing bodily injury

– Driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level causing bodily injury.

Leffew is also facing allegations of inflicting great bodily injury and inflicting injury to multiple victims, according to Karen Guidotti, chief deputy with the San Mateo County DA’s Office. Gaines, a passenger in the Cadillac, suffered severe brain trauma, while the driver and other passengers suffered injuries ranging from broken bones, internal bleeding and lacerations.

When asked if Leffew has any prior convictions, Guidotti explained “we ethically will not disclose prior records, unless it’s part of the charge in the case.”

Another spokesman with the San Mateo DA’s office said, “I’m not saying that (Leffew) doesn’t have something, but we don’t comment on peoples’ records – whether they have them or they don’t.”

The DA’s office has contacted the Gaines family regarding the charges filed against Leffew.

The first count of vehicular manslaughter is punishable by a maximum of four years in prison, according to Guidotti. If convicted of the second two counts and the other two allegations – which tack extra time onto the sentence – Leffew could be locked up for approximately 15 years, Guidotti said.

Leffew is scheduled to appear for his arraignment at 9 a.m. March 26 at the San Mateo County DA’s Office in Redwood City.

The arraignment will mark Leffew’s first appearance in court where “he’s put on notice of what the charges are,” Guidotti explained. “Oftentimes (the accused) will enter a plea of ‘not guilty’ at the arraignment.”

Leffew is not in custody, she said.

News of Leffew’s charges come at the tail end of an investigation launched in November 2011 following the death of Gaines, whose fight for life following the car accident spurred thousands of prayers and ardent messages of support.

The deadly crash occurred around 1:30 a.m. Nov. 6 on southbound U.S. 101 in Millbrae, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Gaines and four others – Denise Bravo, 18, of San Juan Bautista; Razelyn Ambrocio, 21, of Santa Cruz and Gaines’ Gavilan College basketball teammates Davontea Johnson and Billy Heard, who was driving – were heading south to Gilroy after an evening at an 18-and-over San Francisco club called City Nights. Heard reportedly swerved to avoid a tire in the roadway, causing the black Cadillac sedan to collide with the center median.

As the vehicle rested in the fast lane, a red Nissan 300ZX driven by Leffew crashed into the Cadillac, the CHP said.

Heard and Leffew were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, though a toxicology report obtained by the Dispatch showed Heard, 22, was not drunk.

Heard was tested for alcohol approximately 30 minutes after the 1:30 a.m. crash and for additional substances – including methamphetamine, cocaine, opiates, oxycodone and heroin – almost 90 minutes after that, according to the report. He tested negative for all those substances.

Gaines, who suffered severe brain trauma, was put into a medically induced coma following the accident. He died 12 days later Nov. 18 at San Francisco General Hospital.

In the interim, Gaines’ friends and family flooded Twitter and Facebook, inciting thousands of responses through the “#PrayForAndrel” movement and an online prayer chain that grew to almost 8,000 members. Some celebrities and professional athletes even re-tweeted the emotional pleas.

By the time Gaines passed away, hundreds had visited his hospital room. Roughly 900 community members honored the college freshman during a public funeral held Dec. 3 inside the Gavilan College gymnasium

“Obviously it’s a day-by-day situation,” said Gavilan Athletic Director Ron Hannon, when asked about the ongoing healing process on campus. “Any time you have the loss of a young person like that – someone who has impacted your program and been an influence on a lot of other young people – that’s a big loss.”

As for the progress made by Gaines’ teammates Davontea Johnson and Billy Heard, who were also injured in the Nov. 6 accident, Hannon said the two athletes have returned to working out at the gym on a daily basis. The young men are making steady progress as they recover and are excited to return to the competitive aspect of their sport, according to Hannon. He expects that Johnson and Heard will be back on the court in time for next year’s season.

“That’s encouraging,” said Hannon. “Basketball is such an important part of their lives.”

He said Gavilan’s student body coped with Gaines’ death “as absolutely the best they possibly could, given the circumstances.”

“They’re a very resilient group of young people,” he continued. “I think part of it is they have each other for support, and that’s really important.”

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