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.