Driver faces charges in crash that killed mom and daughter

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GARDEN GROVE (CNS) – A 30-year-old man was behind bars today on suspicion of causing an alcohol-fueled, multiple-vehicle New Year’s Day crash on the Garden Grove Freeway that killed a mother and her 9-year-old daughter.

Melvin Cleveland Branch of Orange, who was being held on $100,000 bail, was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated shortly after the 12:50 a.m. Tuesday crash on the freeway east of Valley View Street, according to the California Highway Patrol. Branch had just turned 30 on New Year’s Eve.

Orange County Coroner’s officials on Wednesday released the names of the victims — 33-year-old Jolene Gardner and her 9-year-old daughter Payton Castillo. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene and her mother was pronounced dead at 1:47 a.m. Tuesday at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.

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 the 2010 Ford F-150 pickup truck driven by Gardner, causing her to lose control, the CHP alleged.

The pickup truck 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.

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