Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Update on April Whang's Case

April Junhee Whang Rest In Peace

Brittany Deanne Schuetz, 20, of Santa Ana, pleaded not guilty to one felony count of murder. She is accused of killing April Junhee Whang during a high-speed crash last month.
Whang was driving her 2004 black Acura Integra south on Beach Boulevard before turning left onto eastbound Imperial Highway when she was struck by Schuetz. According to police reports, Schuetz was driving between 90 and 100 mph east on Imperial Highway in a 2003 Mazda 6 when she failed to stop at a red light and collided with the Integra.OC Register

FULLERTON – A 20-year-old woman suspected of driving under the influence was charged today with one felony count of murder in the death of 26-year-old April Junhee Whang in a high-speed car crash last month, authorities said.

Whang's family and friends sat in the court gallery as Brittany Deanne Schuetz pleaded not guilty to the murder charge during an arraignment this morning at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.

"Nobody saw any kind of emotion from her until she found out she was going to be charged with murder," said Whang's boyfriend, Thomas Sleigh. "That's when everyone could see her emotion and tears," he said.

Schuetz, of Santa Ana, is accused of driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.24 percent, three times above the legal limit, while on probation for a 2007 driving under the influence case.

She is being held in lieu of $1 million bail, said Susan Kang Schroeder, a district attorney's spokeswoman.

Schuetz is scheduled to appear in court March 12 for a pretrial hearing, Schroeder said.

If convicted, Schuetz faces up to 15 years to life in prison.

Whang's untimely death shattered the hearts of those who loved her.

"We are devastated," said Kimberly Whang, April's 21-year-old sister. "It's not easy to wake up in the morning and realize that April is not coming home. It's been really emotional and hard for our family."

Last month, more than 1,000 family and friends gathered to memorialize the woman with an infectious smile and a warm heart at Sky Rose Chapel in Whittier on a rainy and cold Friday evening.

"We had plans," Sleigh, 24, said. "We wanted to get married. We wanted to buy a small place to begin our life," he said.

But those dreams evaporated during the early morning hours of Feb. 1 in La Habra. Whang was driving her 2004 black Acura Integra south on Beach Boulevard before turning left onto eastbound Imperial Highway when she was struck by Schuetz. According to police reports, Schuetz was driving between 90 and 100 mph east on Imperial Highway in a 2003 Mazda 6 when she failed to stop at a red light and collided with the Integra.

Whang was thrown from the driver's seat to the cargo area of her Acura, the investigation revealed.

Whang, who was about one mile from her Fullerton home, was pronounced dead at the scene.

La Habra police found Schuetz sitting in the driver's seat showing signs of intoxication, including giving off a strong odor of alcohol, having bloodshot eyes and watery eyes and not being able to answer basic questions asked by officers, according to the District Attorney's Office.

On Jan. 31, Schuetz is accused of drinking alcoholic beverages at a party in Sherman Oaks. On Feb. 1, she is accused of dropping off her friends in Whittier and ignoring their offers to obtain alternate options for her to get home, according to the District Attorney's Office.

The irony, Sleigh said, is that Whang always insisted that her friends didn't drink and drive.

"She was always really adamant about no one drinking and driving," Sleigh said, adding that she was often the designated driver of the group.

"I just want to make sure people learn from this … that you shouldn't drink and drive. It's a horrible thing that nobody should ever have to go through," Kimberly Whang said.

Before the fatal crash, Sleigh said, Whang was at his Whittier home watching an episode of "Saturday Night Live" and both fell asleep on the couch. Whang woke up about 1 a.m. and said she had to go. Sleigh walked her outside.

"I was able to tell her 'I love you,' " Sleigh said. "I had her roll down her window and kissed her one more time."

Whang said she would call him when she got home and drove off.

But Whang never called. Instead, he got a call from her sister Kimberly.

"She was sobbing so much and said April was killed in an accident on the way home," Sleigh said. "Kimmy said she died, but I didn't believe it. I still don't believe it," he said.

Whang was a former figure skater and had been working at Ultimate Skate and Hockey at Anaheim Ice for three years.

"She had like a magnet that drew people to her, especially kids," said Sandy Steindler, co-owner of Ultimate Skate and Hockey.

"She was strong, but kind and a great role model for the girls that came in here and were hockey players and figure skaters," said Roxanne Steindler, co-owner of Ultimate Skate and Hockey.

Photos of April Whang were displayed at the store after her death, along with a journal filled with messages to remember a young woman who was a "ray of sunshine," Roxanne Steindler said.

"She was 26, but she is probably one of the best people I've ever known," Roxanne Steindler said. "She was like a daughter to me."

In addition to her sister, Whang is survived by her parents, Kyung and Brian Whang.

A donation fund has been established for the family at Washington Mutual, account 9402368181. Donations will be forwarded to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Sleigh said. Donations are also being collected at Ultimate Skate and Hockey at Anaheim Ice.

5 comments:

Ian Chin said...

Thank you for the update on April.

My 15 year old daughter was a friend of April's from Anaheim Ice and Ducks games at the Honda Center. It's been a difficult time for her, and being able to explain to her what is happening after this horrible tragedy is helping her cope with what happened.

We're keeping April and her family and friends in our thoughts and prayers.

Rebekah said...

I have known April ever since i was 3 years old, when she fitted me for my very first skates, its been 13years! she has inspired my life tremendously. Whenever anyone saw April she had such a big smile on her face no matter what. I knew everything about her and she knew everything about me! it is so hard to come to a realization that your best friend, your un-biological sister has passed away. She has a special part in everyone's heart especially mine! <3 Its been such a hard time for us,meaning April's family and friends, all because of a irresponsible girl. It's been a month and i still cry every now and then. It hurts to go to the rink and not see my April there! i will always keep Aprils family in my prayers!! GOOD TIMES, GOOD MEMORIES, and GOOD BYE!!(not forever though)!

kushibo said...

I only just now saw this when I went looking for earlier news reports about Schuetz's trial going on.

My disgust for people like Schuetz is beyond words. April sounds like a sweet person, and I can't even begin to imagine the sadness and emptiness her sister, her boyfriend, and especially her parents must still be feeling.

My thoughts and prayers go out to them.

payne said...

^^ Thank you for the update and your prayers.

-chris

Ian said...

GUILTY!

SECOND-TIME DRUNKEN DRIVER CONVICTED OF MURDERING ANOTHER MOTORIST IN EARLY MORNING HIGH-SPEED CRASH



SANTA ANA - A second-time drunken driver who was on probation for a previous driving under the influence conviction and whose blood alcohol content was over five times the legal limit was found guilty today of murdering a 26-year-old motorist in an early morning high-speed crash. Brittany Deanne Schuetz, 21, Santa Ana, was convicted by a jury of one felony count of murder and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in state prison at her sentencing on April, 30, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-30, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.



Prior History (Case # 07HM05157)

On July 16, 2007, Schuetz pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol level of .14 percent on June 14, 2007. As a condition of her probation, she attended alcohol awareness classes where she was instructed about the dangers of drinking and driving.



Circumstances of the Murder

On the night of Jan. 31, 2009, Schuetz consumed several alcoholic drinks at a party. After midnight on Feb. 1, 2009, she left the party and ignored her friends' offers to find her a ride home and their pleas for her not to drive.



At approximately 1:30 a.m., Schuetz was driving over 90 mph on Imperial Highway in a black 2003 Mazda 6. She entered the intersection at Imperial Highway and Beach Boulevard against a red light. After running the red light, the defendant struck victim April Whang's vehicle, which was traveling eastbound on Imperial Highway from Beach Boulevard on a green light. Schuetz caused the crash that threw Whang from the driver's seat to the cargo area of her 2004 Acura Integra.



La Habra Police arrived at the scene to find the defendant sitting in the driver's seat of her car. Schuetz displayed objective signs of alcohol intoxication including emitting a strong odor of alcohol from her breath, having bloodshot and watery eyes, and not being able to answer any of the basic questions asked by investigating officers. Two hours after the crash, the defendant had a blood alcohol level of .24 percent, five times above the legal limit for a person under the age of 21.



Whang died at the scene due to multiple traumatic injuries. The victim was an ice hockey player and former figure skater. She worked as a store manager at The Rinks Anaheim Ice. Over 1,000 people attended her funeral. Whang lived in Fullerton with her parents and 21-year-old sister.

Deputy District Attorney Susan Price of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.