By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man who prosecutors say struck and killed three 13-year-old California girls as they were trick-or-treating on Halloween and then fled in his damaged sport utility vehicle was charged on Tuesday with vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run.
Jaquinn Ramone Bell was arrested on Sunday at a Motel 6 in Stanton, California, not far from where the girls were hit in a crosswalk. He was also charged with driving on a suspended license and fleeing the scene of a crime, Orange County prosecutors said.
Bell, 31, faces a maximum sentence of 17 years in prison if convicted at trial. His arraignment was postponed until Dec. 16 at the request of a defense attorney during a brief hearing in Orange County Superior Court.
Twin sisters Lexia and Lexandra Perez and their friend Andrea Gonzales, all 13, were wearing costumes and carrying bags of candy as they crossed a street in Santa Ana, some 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles, when they were struck by the SUV on Friday evening.
The driver did not stop to help the dying girls, police say, and all three were pronounced dead at the scene, triggering an outpouring of grief in working class Santa Ana and across Southern California.
Authorities say Bell had been driving with two children in the black SUV when he struck the girls, and abandoned the vehicle, which had a damaged front end from the accident, near the scene on Friday night.
His mother and half-sister were also initially arrested, but later released when they were cleared of involvement in the collision.
Orange County Deputy District Attorney Keith Burke said police were still investigating the incident.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Bell, who was being held on $1 million bail, has a criminal record dating back to 2009 and that his probation has been revoked seven times since then.
Bell's attorney could not be reached for comment following the hearing.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)