On Saturday, April 17, at around 4 pm, a tragic sequence of events unfolded at the intersection of Newport Boulevard and 17th Street. A Costa Mesa man, Stewart Leacky Waithanji, was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol when he struck the vehicle of Richard Frost, 74, of Newport Beach.
When Frost got out of his vehicle to prevent Waithanji from driving away, Waithanji allegedly ran over Frost, and then drove his Chevrolet Malibu to a Los Alamitos bar, where he was later arrested. Frost later died from his injuries.
Waithanji, 28, has a long history of drunk driving and is now facing one charge of felony murder, two felony charges of driving under the influence, as well as two misdemeanor charges associated with property damage caused by the collision.
The female passenger riding in Waithanki’s car at the time of the crash has also been arrested under the suspicion of being an accessory to the crime. However, the D.A.’s office has not yet filed charges against her at this time.
A criminal complaint filed on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, exposed Waithanji’s history of DUI. Prosecutors confirmed that he had three separate cases within a 10-year period.
Court documents in Iowa confirm Waithanji has three previous convictions for first, second, and third-degree DUI charges, which were committed in January and May of 2016, as well as November 2017. A spokeswoman for the Orange County D.A.’s office, Kimberly Edds, confirmed Waithanji is also a named suspect in two pending DUI cases in the county.
Part of Waithanji’s long history includes an incident that took place on September 27, 2019, where he was arrested for stealing a vehicle allegedly while under the influence, and was accused of felony vandalism, which led to $400 in damages.
Waithanji is also facing more misdemeanor charges related to an incident that occurred October 12, 2019, where yet another hit and run took place while he was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.
When a death occurs as a result of a DUI-related crash, the suspect often faces manslaughter charges. However, if the suspect has previous DUI charges, as Waithanji does, they can face an upgraded charge of second-degree murder. Waithanji is currently being held at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana on $1 million bail.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer gave a statement Tuesday on why prosecutors will be pursuing the murder charge against Waithanji. “A 74-year-old man was left for dead in the middle of the street, tossed aside as if he never mattered, because of the selfish decision of a stranger to get behind the wheel while intoxicated,” Spitzer stated. “His life may not have mattered to the driver who left him for dead, but it matters to me, and it matters to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and we will fight for justice for him and everyone who loved him.” Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Richard Frost.