Murder Conviction Holds for Driver on Nitrous

     (CN) – A man who got high on nitrous oxide, drove into four pedestrians and then fled by reversing over a trapped woman, cannot overturn his convictions, a California appeals court ruled.
     Bryan Calles intentionally inhaled nitrous oxide for three or four hours in May 2008 before his shift at Bullet Freight Co. in Los Angeles.
     Co-worker Gustavo Lezama testified that he saw Calles stopped at a red light while driving to work. Calles allegedly waved at him while the light turned green and Lezama drove away. But Lezama said Calles remained at the intersection for four seconds, waving and staring at the place where Lezama’s vehicle had been stopped.
     About one-quarter mile later, Lezama heard Calles’ car “roar,” and saw Calles swerve across the opposing lane and hit four pedestrians on the sidewalk.
     One pedestrian, Dominic Medina, flew into the air and was impaled on a wrought iron fence. He was taken to the hospital with the spikes still in his chest, but survived.
     Miguel Rocha was slammed into the fence and died on the scene from massive head trauma.
     A third pedestrian, Lisa Santee, was trapped under Calles’ car with two broken arms “screaming for help loudly.”
     When the fourth pedestrian, Michelle Pineda, started to walk to a nearby business for help, she heard Calles start his car and “rev up.” She testified that Calles reversed his car over Santee, dragging the woman’s body across the sidewalk, then rolling over it as it fell into the gutter. Santee died on the scene after the paramedics arrived.
     Calles then drove away, abandoned his car at a McDonalds, hid his nitrous oxide in a friend’s vehicle, and went to work.
     The police arrested Calles the next day.
     At trial, a medical examiner testified that it could not be determined whether the initial impact of the vehicle, or the subsequent backing up of the car, caused Santee’s fatal injuries. A defense attorney argued that Calles was in shock after the accident and unaware that a person was under his car.
     The jury ultimately convicted Calles of two counts of vehicular manslaughter, three counts of leaving the scene of an accident and one court of second degree murder for Santee’s death. He received 23 years to life in prison.
     On appeal, Calles argued that the evidence did not support a conviction for second-degree murder of Santee, and the jury wrongly conducted a “timing demonstration” to show how much time elapsed between the initial accident and Calles’ getaway.
     The California Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions Monday.
     “It is reasonable to infer that defendant knew his act was dangerous to human life,” Justice Richard Mosk wrote for a three-member panel. “. Defendant had struck several pedestrians, one of whom was struck so hard as to be impaled and suspended off the ground by the spikes of a wrought iron fence. Pineda testified that defendant never got out of his car, nor did he check on the welfare of anyone in the area of the accident. Instead, defendant placed the vehicle in reverse and ran over Santee. It is reasonable to infer that defendant knew backing up his car would endanger a human life, and he deliberately disregarded that risk.”
     In addition, while a jury may not conduct experiments that fall outside the scope of evidence presented at trial, “the jurors in this case were not trying to replicate physically the events or recreate events by use of items outside of the evidence,” the decision states. “The jurors were merely using a watch and ‘verbally’ discussing the evidence presented to them.”
     Calles will, however, go back to the trial court for a new sentencing determination.
     The trial court had stayed execution of sentence on all counts except the second-degree murder charge, for which he was sentenced to 23 to life.
     But Mosk said that the court should not have stayed execution of sentence on manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. Though Calles was convicted on multiple counts, the court should separate sentences for one count of each type.
     The court also reversed the decision to partially enhanced Calles’ sentence, not stay the execution of a sentence enhancement on certain counts, and award presentence conduct credit.

%d bloggers like this: