Driver accused in crash that killed two passengers pleads not guilty to murder and other charges

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A 19-year-old man accused of driving under the influence when his car crashed onto Torrey Pines State Beach last month, killing two of his passengers and seriously injuring two others, pleaded not guilty May 18 to charges including murder.

A 2020 Subaru WRX driven by Christopher Ray Schmittel, a resident of Moreno Valley in Riverside County, crashed through a guardrail at high speed on North Torrey Pines Road just before 11 p.m. April 25, plunged down a rocky embankment and ended up on the beach, according to San Diego police. Passengers Joshua Manzanares and Johnny Punzalan, both 19 of Lake Elsinore, were thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene, police said.

Schmittel and two other teenage passengers in the car were hospitalized with serious injuries, police said.

Prosecutors allege Schmittel was driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs but have not disclosed what he is accused of using.

Schmittel was arrested at his home May 15 and remained in custody without bail at San Diego County’s Vista Detention Facility following his May 18 arraignment.

He is charged with two counts each of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence causing bodily injury. He could face up to 30 years to life in state prison if convicted. ◆