Suspect in fatal hit-run may escape murder charges

FRESNO, Calif.

Regan Johnson, 24, was working an extra job when she was killed. CHP officers arrested Alyssa Villanueva at an apartment complex Wednesday and booked her for Johnson's murder, D.U.I., hit and run, and driving with a suspended license.

Villanueva has a prior DUI conviction, and could be charged with homicide. But prosecutors may have a hard time making the case for murder.

Two years ago, Regan Johnson graduated from Fresno State with high honors. But on Tuesday, CHP officers say Villanueva drove her car into a construction zone and killed Johnson.

Investigators say Villanueva fled the scene of the crash and her arrest came ten hours later. They say she was drunk at the time of the accident. But ABC30 Legal Analyst Tony Capozzi says because it took so long to find her, it be hard to prove she was under the influence at the time of the crash.

"The problem with this case is -- what's the blood alcohol level at the time of the accident?" Capozzi said, "You need to have witnesses to say she had been out drinking, how much she drank, how much she would've eaten, all these different factors come into play."

Capozzi says prosecutors could be forced to file "vehicular manslaughter" or "hit and run causing death," instead of murder charges. Both charges are felonies, but neither carries a prison sentence of more than 10 years.

Villanueva's family could also be punished. Investigators arrested her stepfather for trying to cover up the crash.

"I think she went a little too far in getting other people involved. Again, which shows consciousness of guilt," said Capozzi.

Johnson's family is suffering the consciousness of loss. Instead of working her daughter at the Big Creek General Store, Johnson's mother is now making plans for a funeral.

Johnson's family and friends where too emotional to talk on camera, but her best friend, Grace Patterson, issued the following statement:

"Regan was sunshine. She was the person that most of us aspire to be. She was loving, generous, kindhearted, fun loving, and hard working. She is absolutely irreplaceable; words cannot describe our deep loss."

Prosecutors have until Friday to decide what charges to file against Villanueva.

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