OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - A daredevil motorcycle rider who made headlines after he was caught on camera doing wheelies on I-580 in Oakland is now facing felony charges for a deadly high-speed crash on that same stretch of freeway. And the family of the young man who died in that wreck says jail time for the driver isn’t enough.
Caught in the act
The case that first drew Corey McDonah notoriety started around 3:40 p.m. on April 2, 2014, when Air 37, a CHP fixed-wing aircraft, spotted him weaving between lanes at speeds of more than 100mph on his orange Kawasaki motorcycle through the MacArthur Maze in Oakland.
“Wheelies at 100-plus,” the CHP pilot radioed to ground units as McDonah continued east on Interstate 580. A few moments later, an update: “Another wheelie – and standing up.”
McDonah got off the freeway at 35th Avenue and, with the plane still overhead, ended up in front of his home on Monterey Boulevard in Oakland’s Redwood Heights neighborhood. Officers took him into custody, pointed to the plane, and McDonah looked skyward. It was only then, he said later, that he realized that the entire episode was caught on video.
McDonah pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 20 days in a county sheriff's work detail and probation. At the time, he told KTVU’s Henry Lee, “That bike’s my bitch. I make it do exactly what I want it to do.” When asked if he has learned anything from being caught, he said that he should “ride in the fog, ‘cause planes don’t see real well through fog.”
A deadly night
Now, more than a year later, McDonah appeared far less jovial, back at court in Oakland. He was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with a fatal crash – also on I-580 -- that killed a friend just three months after his two-wheeled hijinks.
On July 18, 2014, McDonah was allegedly under the influence of alcohol when he crashed his prized 1999 Chevrolet Corvette west of Fruitvale Avenue. Both he and his friend and passenger, Nicholas Obenchain, 25, of Alameda weren’t wearing seatbelts and were ejected. Obenchain died as a result of the crash. McDonah was hurt.
Alameda County prosecutors charged McDonah last month with vehicular manslaughter and two counts of DUI, all felonies. Authorities say he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, more than the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Investigators also say he had marijuana in his system.
In stark contrast to his earlier comments, McDonah declined to comment to KTVU as he made his first court appearance in that case. He ended up being taken into custody on increased bail.
History of violations
Sources close to the investigation say McDonah could have been charged with murder for Obenchain’s death because of the motorcycle incident and his driving history. That history also includes a 2011 conviction for speeding more than 100mph on a motorcycle, records show.
And just three days before he was caught on camera popping wheelies, McDonah was ticketed for speeding in his Corvette, according to Department of Motor Vehicles records.
McDonah is being held in lieu of $300,000 bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. He is unable to make bail, according to his attorney Michael Thorman.
Despite his previous comments on camera where McDonah bragged about his motorcycle stunts, Thorman says his client is now a changed man.
“This has been a life-changing event for him. This was a tragedy. This was one of his best friends who died,” Thorman said. “He very much regrets the whole incident.”
The CHP says those regrets may have come too late, in the wake of the wheelies incident.
“In this case, it wasn’t even a citation, it was an arrest. And he still didn’t learn his lesson,” said CHP Officer Sean Wilkenfeld. “It’s a very sad story.”
A family in mourning
The mother of the victim, Nicholas Obenchain, says she isn’t sure if McDonah has learned his lesson and if he’s sorry about what happened.
“I’m trying to forgive, but because I’ve had no contact with him or his family for 15 months, he hasn’t apologized in any way,” said Yvonne Obenchain, during her first sit-down interview since the crash that took her son’s life. “So I’m in the dark. I don’t know if he’s remorseful. I don’t know if he’s learned his lesson.”
At her home on Alameda’s Bay Farm Island, her son’s room hasn’t been touched. His beloved ’67 El Camino sits outside.
“It’s a harsh reality every time we wake up,” Yvonne Obenchain said. “His room is still there. We still have his cars, his guitar. We just – we’re not ready to change that part of our life.”
Asked what he believed justice would be in this case, Yvonne Obenchain said, “I want him to have a tiny fraction of the pain every day that we have.”
“Unfortunately, no amount of prison time is going to bring back Nick. Another slap on the wrist, really,” the victim’s brother, Greg Obenchain added.
The Obenchains say they are still wracked with grief and torn over their loss. His mother says she finds some solace with the fact that her son was an organ donor who, in death, helped save five lives.
Yvonne Obenchain visits her son regularly at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. She speaks to him through tears, touching the marble walls and making sure the flowers there are fresh.
“We get one day at a time, with your family members, with the people you love,” Yvonne Obenchain said. “One day at a time. Make sure you use that day.”