When a California Highway Patrol officer told Lonnberg that her daughter – 26-year-old Tiffiny Gillette – had been ejected from the car because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt, Lonnberg replied, “Well, that’s her fault,” and appeared more concerned over who would feed her cats and horses while she was in custody than the fate of her daughter and husband, 57-year-old Fred Lonnberg, according to court documents.
Lonnberg, who’s been charged with murder by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, “seemed unremorseful” following the wreck, and had glassy eyes, a sleepy demeanor and smelled strongly of alcohol, a CHP report states. She failed a field sobriety test and told officers she was “just tired” from taking the oxycodone – a strong, relaxing pain reliever she uses to treat back pain, according to the report.
Oxycodone can cause drowsiness, and when mixed with alcohol, “dangerous side effects can occur,” including confusion and dizziness, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Lonnberg’s blood-alcohol content measured twice the legal limit at 0.16, according to a source with knowledge of the case. In 2005, Lonnberg pleaded no contest to reckless driving involving alcohol in San Mateo County and was sentenced to 24 months probation, according to court records.
On Jan. 14, Lonnberg told officers she drank just one Bloody Mary – which contains vodka – between 11 a.m. and noon and took an oxycodone pill around 3 p.m. before leaving Gilroy. The fatal wreck was reported north of Winchester Boulevard on northbound Highway 85 around 3:45 p.m., according to the CHP.
One witness traveling in another vehicle at the time of the accident told the CHP his reaction was, “This guy is suicidal,” when Lonnberg’s pickup zoomed by at an estimated 80 to 85 mph, according to court documents. The posted speed limit is 65 mph.
Lonnberg was driving in the center lane of the three-lane highway when the witness told the CHP he saw her “jerk rapidly towards the right,” causing her vehicle to sideswipe a Chevrolet Silverado pickup in the right-hand lane before rolling multiple times and coming to rest on its wheels.
The driver of the Silverado, who was not injured, told the CHP he never saw Lonnberg’s pickup until “he heard and felt a collision to the left side.” As he moved to the right shoulder he saw Lonnberg swerve back toward the center and left-hand lanes, then attempt to turn back to the right before the pickup started rolling, according to court documents. The man said he immediately dialed 9-1-1.
Ten witnesses gave statements to the CHP, including an off-duty paramedic, an off-duty nurse and two former lifeguards, all who stopped and attempted to provide medical aid until emergency crews arrived, according to court documents.
Lonnberg suffered bruising on her chest and shoulder, according to a CHP report.
The report states she and her family were headed to Belmont that Saturday afternoon. No reason for the trip was given.
“It’s a horrific tragedy. And our investigation’s continuing,” said Deputy District Attorney Matthew Braker, who is prosecuting the case. “We look forward to presenting our evidence at the preliminary hearing.”
The preliminary hearing, held to determine whether there’s enough evidence to send a case to trial, will take place “hopefully sometime in the next four months.”
Lonnberg is charged with two counts of murder and one count of child endangerment, the latter stemming from the fact her 3-year-old grandson was in the pickup at the time of the crash. Gillette’s young son suffered minor scrapes to his hands and feet, according to the CHP’s report.
Lonnberg is due in court Feb. 23 in San Jose to enter a plea.
The District Attorney’s office originally charged Lonnberg with manslaughter, and she bailed out on a $100,00 bail four days after the accident, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Lonnberg, re-arrested after prosecutors upped the charges to murder Jan. 25, remains in custody without bail, District Attorney spokeswoman Lisa McCrary said.
Braker wouldn’t comment on whether Lonnberg had previous DUI convictions because the prosecution’s investigation is ongoing.
Lonnberg’s brother, 49-year-old Montana resident Cody Fuchs, said his sister “did wrong,” and that he misses his brother-in-law and niece. But family members are still offering support for Lonnberg, he said.
“She did something stupid. But she’s got families that love her to death,” Fuchs said Wednesday via telephone. “We’re going to stick behind her 110 percent. She’s family. Blood is thicker than water.”
“My sister was a mother and a wife. And she lost her husband and her daughter,” he added.
Fuchs described his sister as a “hellacious artist,” with a wide vocal range and talent to play multiple instruments. He said she had plans to begin recording some of her songs.
“And then, oh my God, I can’t believe this happened,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs says he’ll consider taking a trip to the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose, where his sister is in custody, to speak to her for the first time since the Jan. 14 wreck.
“I want to go, and I need to go,” he said.
Fuchs said he and members of Lonnberg’s extended family had planned to visit the Bay Area this summer to see his sister, brother-in-law and niece, but, “that’s sort of out of the situation now. Now we’re just trying to keep everything else in line.”