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Suspect In New Year's Day Double Fatal Crash Walks Free

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — A man who was arrested immediately after a New Year's Day crash that killed a mother and her daughter is free Friday after prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges against him.

Melvin Branch, who turned 30 hours before the deadly crash, walked out of Santa Ana Jail with his shirt wrapped around his head Thursday. He initially walked past reporters and news photographers, intermittently trying to cover his face with his shirt, before breaking into a jog.

Branch was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level over .08, DUI causing great bodily injury and vehicular manslaughter immediately after the four-vehicle crash on the westbound 22 Freeway at Valley View Street.

Payton Castillo, 9, was pronounced dead at the scene, while her mother, 33-year-old Jojo Gardner, died at a hospital. The two were driving home to Hawthorne after a New Year's Eve party.

Branch was scheduled to make his first court appearance Thursday, but the Orange County District Attorney's office said there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges against Branch at this time. The California Highway Patrol did not issue an official comment on Thursday's development, but the investigation continues into the crash.

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