MCSO: Drunk driver ran stop sign, T-boned minivan in Laveen

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Gina Maravilla and Jill Galus

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 6:57 AM

Updated Monday, Aug 25 at 12:00 PM

Map: 51st Avenue and Estrella Drive

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LAVEEN, Ariz. -- Detectives are investigating a deadly car crash that happened early Thursday morning in Laveen, and they believe alcohol was a factor.

One woman was killed and two men were injured when a car and a minivan collided at 51st Avenue and Estrella Drive, about 2 miles south of Dobbins Road, at about 2 a.m.

Aerial video from Chopper 3 showed both vehicles where they came to rest in the dirt off the roadway.

Police said the minivan was northbound on 51st Avenue and a Crown Victoria was headed west on Estrella Drive.

Witnesses told investigators that the car blew through a stop sign and T-boned the minivan.

"Nobody in the cars were wearing seat belts," Lt. Brandon Jones of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said.

Jones said the impact "disintegrated or ripped apart the passenger side of the vehicle."

Elizabeth Valenzuela, 44, was in the passenger seat. She was thrown out of the minivan.

"She and the van slid against a canal embankment where the van then landed on top of her," Jones explained.

Valenzuela was pronounced dead at the scene.

The man who was driving the minivan was alert and conscious when emergency crews arrived on the scene. He and the driver of the Crown Victoria, identified as Michael Cherney, 55, of El Mirage, were taken to local hospitals.

Investigators have been working to piece together the moments leading up to the crash.

"We do know that alcohol is a factor in this," Jones said. "We know that the suspect, currently at the hospital, tending to his wounds, is probably going to be facing some serious charges here.

"There was an alcohol container found in his vehicle -- half empty," he continued. "He was 0.2 blood-alcohol content at the hospital."

The legal threshold to be considered "under the influence" is a BAC of 0.08 or more within two hours of driving. A BAC above 0.15 is consider Extreme DUI under Arizona law, while 0.2 or higher is Super Extreme DUI.

At 0.2, a person would likely exhibit severe motor impairment, appear to be in a stupor and not understand his or her actions. There also is the possibility of losing consciousness and experiencing memory blackout.

In addition to the alcohol, Jones said investigators also found marijuana in Cherney's Crown Victoria.

Phoenix police closed 51st Avenue at Carver Road, which is north of Estrella Drive, while they performed the on-scene portion of their investigation. The area was still blocked off at 9:30 a.m. The

Drivers who use 51st Avenue to go around the west side South Mountain and into Phoenix will need to use Interstate 10 instead.

While Phoenix police were first on the scene, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation.

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