OAKLAND — Concluding a murder case that nearly flew off the rails when a different person was arrested and charged, a Bay Area man has accepted a plea deal in a crash during a 2012 Oakland police chase that killed a 21-year-old woman, court records show.
Elton Lee Flenaugh, 40, of Oakland, pleaded no contest to manslaughter in exchange for a 17-year prison term and a murder charge against him being dropped, records show. Flenaugh was identified as the driver of a BMW that crashed into a Lincoln at 90th and Bancroft Avenues on Dec. 27, 2012, killing Brianna Elaine Carmina Ford, 21, of Georgia.
Ford, one of four passengers in the Lincoln, died from severe blunt force trauma.
The bizarre story of how Flenaugh was identified as a suspect starts the night of the crash, when police arrested his cousin — Saint Dejuan Moore — on suspicion of being the driver. When he was arrested hiding behind a garbage can in a cul de sac, Moore told authorities he was drunk and high on marijuana but denied driving the BMW. Still, Moore was charged with murder and ordered to stand trial after a 2013 preliminary hearing, where a police investigator testified he was “95 to 98 percent sure” that Moore was the driver.
But then investigators completely reversed course, and decided that it was actually Flenaugh who was driving and Moore who was a passenger. It all came about amid a federal prosecution of Flenaugh in Georgia.
In 2013, Flenaugh — who uses at least four aliases — was charged with identity theft and fraud in an alleged credit card theft scheme. Meanwhile, the authorities in Oakland were troubled by the realization that none of Moore’s DNA was found in the car, and that he was eliminated as a contributor to DNA found on the driver’s airbag.
Then police discovered the registered owner of the BMW was Joshua Ford, one of Flenaugh’s aliases. So investigators tested Flenaugh’s DNA and matched it to the airbags of the driver’s side of the BMW. Moore’s charges were dropped in 2014 — after 18 months in jail — and he later sued for malicious prosecution, court records show.
Police testified at Flenaugh’s 2020 preliminary hearing they tried to pull the BMW over for a traffic violation, but it led them on a chase through Oakland, collided with the Lincoln, and then continued a short distance before Flenaugh was arrested.
To compensate for their prior misidentification, police and prosecutors contended that Moore and Flenaugh looked similar so it was an understandable mistake to make. Annie Beles, Flenaugh’s attorney, argued that “these guys don’t look alike except for that they are both African-American men,” and said prosecutors were trying to change the facts around whenever convenient.
Judge Paul Delucchi said at the preliminary hearing he wasn’t fully convinced that Flenaugh was the driver until the DNA evidence came in. He noted that Flenaugh had a prior evading police conviction and said he believed there was enough evidence to order Flenaugh to stand trial on a murder charge.
“At what point do we finally realize the inherent danger this provides to life when you evade police officers?” Delucchi asked, rhetorically.
Flenaugh is set to be sentenced May 23, court records show. He will receive credit for the past nine years he’s spent in federal custody and in pretrial detention.