East Palo Alto woman gets 15 years to life for high-speed-chase murder

Crash in June 2011 killed 22-year-old Lorina Veamatahau

An East Palo Alto woman has received 15 years to life in prison after a 2011 high-speed chase that led to the death of her friend, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.

A jury convicted Leylani Simmons, 28, of second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter and felony evading police on June 17, three years to the day of the accident that killed Lupe Veamatahau, 22. Veamatahau's mother and Simmons' aunt addressed the court at her sentencing hearing Friday in San Mateo County Superior Court.

On the evening of June 17, 2011, East Palo Alto police officers saw a vehicle driving recklessly at Pulgas Avenue and Camellia Drive and pursued the car. Simmons was allegedly driving at speeds between 60 and 80 miles per hour during the 1.5-mile chase that ensued, according to the district attorney's office. She ran at least six stop signs, twice drove on the wrong side of the road and ultimately lost control of the car. The vehicle overturned as she attempted to turn south from Pulgas Avenue onto East Bayshore Road, pinning Veamatahau between the car and the asphalt. Veamatahau died at the scene, according to the district attorney's office.

Simmons was ejected from the vehicle and hospitalized with serious, non-life-threatening injuries. She was originally charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence, driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in great bodily injury or death, a great bodily injury allegation and driving on a suspended license with a prior DUI conviction. She was also booked on charges and a no-bail warrant from Santa Clara County for reckless driving, defrauding an innkeeper and a warrant for driving with a suspended license, according to the district attorney. She pleaded not guilty in May 2012.

Superior Court Judge Clifford Cretan dismissed the two lesser charges related to driving under the influence causing great bodily injury at the prosecution's request because the offenses are included within the murder charge, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said after the conviction.

There was little leeway in her sentencing, Wagstaffe said at the time. Simmons must also pay court fines and restitution for the crimes. A restitution hearing is scheduled for Sept. 19.

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Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm

JustMe is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm

KP is a registered user.

Why is it only 15 to life - it should be life to life.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm

EPA PD had her license plate number and should have stopped the pursuit. PA PD's policy wouldn't likely allow even starting the wild street chase. They would have simply gone to her house and cited her. She had a job, no great criminal history and wasn't a flight risk.

I think she's guilty of having a lousy defense lawyer. Not a lot to be happy about on this one.

1 person likes this
Posted by Trellis
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 25, 2014 at 3:23 pm

So sad to hear of an innocent life being taken.

Prayers for everyone involved.

1 person likes this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2014 at 12:37 pm

JustMe is a registered user.

Joe, charges included:
Defrauding an innkeeper
Previous DUI
Suspended license

She was no angel. Just the fact that she was drunk and driving with wanton disregard for the safety of others says that. Do you want your kids playing on the street where she might do that? Do you want your mother driving on the same street? Do you want your wife walking the dog there?

She is a repeat offender, the die is cast, she is a menace to society. Sorry for her, but until we can give her an autonomous vehicle with no steering wheel, she cannot be let out of jail in my opinion.

No, you can't just revoke her license, she does not appear to be the type that would be deterred by that.

Like this comment
Posted by nena
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2014 at 11:16 pm

It was an accident i know her and she is very sorry for what she did and understands it was wrong the sentance she got was not right she is not a bad person come on dont tell me as youngsters you never got a d.u.i and did mistakes dont judge her by one failure look at allthe good she has done in her life free lei

Like this comment
Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2014 at 10:19 am

Bru is a registered user.

15 years too life? Does that really mean about 8 years with good behavior, or 15 years minimum? This story is really awful on just about every level, also considering the character and past behavior. Ugh, what is the matter with our legal system?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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