No Charges Filed in Crash That Killed Mom and Daughter

Orange County prosecutors asked investigators Thursday for more evidence before considering filing charges in what the California Highway Patrol alleges was an alcohol-fueled, multiple-vehicle New Year’s Day crash on the Garden Grove (22) Freeway that killed a mother and her 9-year-old daughter.

Melvin Cleveland Branch of Orange has been held in lieu of $100,000 bail since Tuesday, but was poised be released from the Orange County Jail. Thursday was the deadline for prosecutors to file charges while he was in custody.

“I asked them (CHP investigators) for further investigation and any and all reports pertaining to their investigation,” said Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue. “It’s a multi-car collision, so there’s obviously a lot of moving parts so I’m waiting for them to submit all of their reports.”

Branch, who turned 30 on New Year’s Eve, was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated shortly after the 12:50 a.m. crash on the 22 Freeway east of Valley View Street. Killed were 33-year-old Jolene Gardner and her 9-year-old daughter Payton Castillo.

The girl died at the scene and her mother was pronounced dead at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange about an hour after the crash.

Branch was driving a BMW on the freeway east of Springdale Street at an “extremely high rate of speed” in the HOV lane when he rear-ended a Lexus multiple times, causing the driver to lose control and slam into the right shoulder sound barrier wall, the CHP alleged.

The Lexus driver escaped injury, but Branch then rear-ended Gardner’s 2010 Ford F-150 pickup truck, which rolled over onto its right side and skidded across the freeway into a 2003 Mazda 3 and then struck a guardrail bordering the right shoulder, the CHP reported. The Mazda driver also escaped injury.

When Branch was cleared by doctors, he was taken to jail, the CHP reported.

GoFundMe campaign has been set up to raise money for funeral costs and memorial services. A total of $44,532 have been raised so far.

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