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LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles police officer accused of causing a fiery freeway crash that killed a family of three was charged with three counts of murder on Friday.
Edgar Verduzco, 27, was arrested in Long Beach, California, on Friday by the California Highway Patrol, which has been investigating the case, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. He was also charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter and one count of driving under the influence.
Police officials said Friday that Verduzco is no longer with the department. He was on placed on paid leave after the collision, police said.
The California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office allege that on the night of Sept. 26, Verduzco, who was off duty, was speeding in a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro on the southbound 605 freeway in Santa Fe Springs, California, when his car struck two others, causing one to hit a center divider and burst into flames. Killed in that vehicle were Mario Davila, 60; his wife, Maribel Davila, 52; and their 19-year-old son, Oscar Davila.
A woman and her infant in the other vehicle sustained minor injuries, according to a police statement. Verduzco's blood-alcohol level was 0.08 percent, the legal limit, prosecutors said.
CHP officers initially arrested Verduzco after the crash, and he was held overnight, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department inmate records. But he was released as a result of "insufficient" evidence, the records say. "Verduzco was initially arrested and later released pending completion of the investigation," according to a CHP statement.
His attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to multiple local reports, a few hours before the crash, an Instagram account bearing Verduzco's name and displaying photos of a Camaro as well as images of a young man in an LAPD uniform published a video of a cartoon character behind the wheel of a car. The hashtag for the clip was #dontdrinkanddrive. The department has not verified that the account is Verduzco's.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement, "My heart goes out to the victims and families so tragically impacted by Verduzco's criminal actions. Police officers have a moral and legal obligation to abide by the laws that they enforce. Today’s arrest demonstrates how seriously we take that obligation."
Judge Deborah S. Brazil of State Superior Court in Los Angeles County ordered Verduzco held on $6.1 million bail. Arraignment was postponed until May 16.
Prosecutors say that if convicted, Verduzco could be sentenced to life in prison.