Rice sentenced to life for vehicular murders in 2009

Friday, the Madera Superior Court sentenced Justin Eugene Rice, 35, of Ventura, California, to life in prison following his conviction for three murders, according to District Attorney Michael Keitz.In August 2009, Rice was traveling south on Highway 41, when he entered the northbound lane, forcing the oncoming vehicles to swerve to avoid collision.

However,one vehicle, carrying five employees of the Chukchansi Resort and Casino, was unable to avoid Rice and suffered a horrific head on collision, causing the deaths of Elena Mendoza, Maria Rodriguez and Estella Frias. Rice, who was later determined to be under the influence of methamphetamine, was taken to the emergency room at Madera Community Hospital where he tried to escape and fought the officers attempting to restrain him.

Rice was charged with three counts of second degree murder, together with special allegations for having suffered a prior strike and for failure to remain free of prison for five years. In January 2013, Rice was convicted of those charges.

Rice’s sentencing was delayed due to his attempts to receive a new trial and minimize his sentence, which was opposed by the District Attorney’s Office. This came to a conclusion on Friday, when a Madera Superior Court judge sentenced Rice to 96 years to life for the three murders and special allegations.

“The deaths of three victims in this case is a tragic consequence of Rice’s choice to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs. Those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs need to know that we will continue to vigorously prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, ” said District Attorney Keitz.

- Madera County District Attorney’s Office