San Diego Woman Sentenced 19 Years to Life for DUI Crash That Killed Friend

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San Diego Woman Sentenced 19 Years to Life for DUI Crash That Killed Friend

Sidnie Waller. (GoFundMe/Screenshot via California Insider)

City News Service

City News Service

1/5/2024

Updated: 1/12/2024

SAN DIEGO—A woman who drove under the influence, then left the scene of a crash that trapped her friend in an overturned car submerged in Tecolote Creek was sentenced Jan. 5 to 19 years to life in state prison.
Jennifer Rae Xavier, 24, was convicted by a San Diego jury last year of murder, hit-and-run, and other charges for causing the March 4, 2021, crash that killed 21-year-old Sidnie Waller.
Prosecutors alleged that after the women went out to bars in Pacific Beach that night, Ms. Xavier got behind the wheel while drunk and under the influence of Xanax.
Ms. Waller sent her brother and a friend several text messages prior to the crash which stated that Ms. Xavier was drunk and had taken “a bar,” meaning Xanax. The texts stated that Ms. Waller was “terrified” because Ms. Xavier was swerving, nearly struck other cars, and was driving at over 100 miles per hour.
The car veered off southbound Interstate 5 and overturned in the creek below.
Deputy District Attorney Philippa Cunningham said Ms. Xavier then walked from the scene of the wreck and onto the freeway while drenched in water and was picked up by a passing motorist who was unaware of the crash.
Responding firefighters pulled Ms. Waller from the wreckage. She was taken to a hospital, where she died days later. Ms. Xavier was arrested about five months later in connection with the crash.
Ms. Xavier’s defense attorney, G. Cole Casey, asked Friday for his client to be sentenced on a gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated count rather than murder, in order to avoid sentencing her to a life term.
Unlike the majority of DUI offenders charged with murder, Ms. Xavier did not have a prior DUI conviction, Casey said.
Those convictions typically lead to a “Watson advisement,” in which defendants are informed by the court that they can be charged with murder if they commit another DUI offense and someone dies. Since Ms. Xavier did not receive that advisement, Casey argued she should not be sentenced in the same manner as someone with a prior DUI.
Cunningham argued that while Ms. Xavier lacked a prior DUI conviction, evidence showed she drove under the influence in 2019 and crashed into another car. The prosecutor said the fatal crash was “not the first time that Jenny Xavier decided to disregard the safety of everyone else for her own benefit.”
In denying the defense’s request, San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh noted that Ms. Xavier texted a friend after the 2019 crash, in which she described the incident as a “wake up call” and said “I could have killed someone or myself.”
Front view of the central courthouse of the San Diego Superior Court. (Courtesy of San Diego Superior Court)

Front view of the central courthouse of the San Diego Superior Court. (Courtesy of San Diego Superior Court)

Ms. Waller and Ms. Xavier were childhood friends from the San Jose area, but both were living in San Diego at the time.
At Ms. Xavier’s sentencing hearing, Ms. Waller’s mother, Danijela Mosunic, said that as a longtime friend of her daughter, Ms. Xavier had even been included in some of their family vacations.
Ms. Mosunic said one night, Ms. Xavier admitted to her that she'd been involved in several car accidents, including one that occurred while she was under the influence of Xanax and alcohol. Ms. Mosunic said she made Ms. Xavier promise to never do it again.
“Well, guess what? It did happen again,” Mosunic said. “And this time, you caused a tragic accident that killed your friend, my daughter, who is now gone.”
Ms. Waller’s brother, Jacob Waller, said he knew something was wrong after the barrage of text messages he received on the night of March 4. His suspicions deepened on March 5 when he did not receive Sidnie’s daily morning text, a routine in which she sent him an inspirational message each day.
“How could you leave Sidnie to die?” he asked Ms. Xavier. “I can only imagine how scared and frightened Sidnie was while trapped underwater not knowing where the exit was. I hope that is what prison is going to feel like for you: no exit.”
Ms. Waller’s father, Donald Waller, said that on the night of March 4, he knew the women were going out and told them over the phone, “Be careful, have fun and I love you.” He told Ms. Xavier, “You threw out the first thing I said to the both of you, ‘Be careful.”’
Ms. Xavier apologized to Ms. Waller’s family and friends in attendance and said she would do what she could to be an “advocate” regarding the dangers of drinking and driving.
“I made a reckless choice,” she said. “My reckless choice ultimately took the life of one of the closest friends I’ve ever had ... I’m sorry for the pain and anger you all feel. I’m sorry for taking Sidnie away. There’s nothing I can do to ever make up for this.”
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