DRIVER FAC­ING MUR­DER CHARGE

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY MATT FOUNTAIN

Pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented ev­i­dence against Nipomo res­i­dent Edgar Mo­rales in a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing Thurs­day.

A Nipomo man with two prior DUIs was driv­ing on a sus­pended li­cense in De­cem­ber when he al­legedly crossed into on­com­ing traf­fic and crashed into a car, killing an 82-yearold woman.

Edgar Mo­rales was more than three times over the le­gal limit to drive when he col­lided with a car car­ry­ing two peo­ple head­ing home from a quinceañera, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony pre­sented in San Luis Obispo Su­pe­rior Court on Thurs­day.

Maria Me­d­ina of Santa Maria was pro­nounced dead at the scene on Thomp­son Road at about 11 p.m. Dec. 1, 2018.

Mo­rales, 23, is fac­ing a charge of se­cond-de­gree mur­der for Me­d­ina’s death due to his prior crim­i­nal his­tory and his past ac­knowl­edg­ment of what’s called a Wat­son ad­vise­ment, which means he can be charged with mur­der should he ever drink and drive again and some­one dies as a re­sult.

He’s ad­di­tion­ally charged with felony counts of gross ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter while in­tox­i­cated, driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence caus­ing in­jury, driv­ing on a sus­pended li­cense and driv­ing with­out in­sur­ance. He’s pleaded not guilty.

On the mur­der charge alone, he faces 15 years to life in state prison.

‘I THOUGHT I WAS PASSED AWAY’

Mo­rales was in court Thurs­day for a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing in which Su­pe­rior Court Judge Jesse Marino heard tes­ti­mony from pros­e­cu­tion wit­nesses. Though the hear­ing did not con­clude, Marino will take all tes­ti­mony into con­sid­er­a­tion when rul­ing whether enough probable cause ex­ists to pro­ceed each charge to­ward trial.

As Mo­rales sat silently in the court­room, with his fam­ily mem­bers and mem­bers of Me­d­ina’s fam­ily present in the au­di­ence, oc­ca­sion­ally glanc­ing at his at­tor­ney while fol­low­ing tes­ti­mony.

Marino heard tes­ti­mony from Maricela Mar­quez, Me­d­ina’s daugh­ter, who was driv­ing her mother home in a 2006 BMW X5 south­bound on Thomp­son Road af­ter they both at­tended a fam­ily cel­e­bra­tion at St. Joseph’s Par­ish.

Mar­quez tes­ti­fied un­der di­rect ques­tion­ing by Deputy Dis­trict At­tor­ney Stephen Wag­ner that though she had per­haps one-and-ahalf beers over sev­eral hours at the event, she was not feel­ing in­tox­i­cated when she left.

The BMW was ap­proach­ing East Knotts Street at about 10:30 p.m. when Mar­quez said she saw the head­lights of Mo­rales’ black Honda Ac­cord com­ing straight at them in the dark in what ap­peared to be their south­bound lane.

“I was talk­ing to my mom about the party, and I saw the lights,” she said. “I said, ‘This pen­dejo’s go­ing to crash.’”

She said a roughly 4 foot em­bank­ment pre­vented her from swerv­ing right off the road, so she swerved left to­ward the north­bound lane to avoid get­ting hit.

It was un­clear from Thurs­day’s tes­ti­mony whether Mo­rales also swerved or con­tin­ued straight, but the im­pact was to both cars’ front pas­sen­ger sides, crush­ing Me­d­ina’s legs. Both ve­hi­cles came to rest in the road­way.

“When I feel the hit, ev­ery­thing went black. I thought I was passed away,” Mar­quez said. “Once I re­al­ized I was alive, I checked on my mom.”

Though she couldn’t see well when she asked her mother if she was OK, she said Me­d­ina replied: “No, mija. My neck is hurting me.”

A passerby called 911, and Mar­quez — who missed the brunt of the im­pact and only suf­fered mi­nor in­juries to her chest and an­kle —found her cell phone to call her hus­band. Dur­ing that time, her mother con­tin­ued to ask for help for in­juries to her neck, legs and a bro­ken thumb.

“I said, ‘Mom, it’s just a fin­ger — we are alive,’” Mar­quez said, chok­ing back tears.

Her mother had to be ex­tri­cated from the car, and ar­riv­ing med­i­cal per­son­nel im­me­di­ately be­gan CPR when she be­came un­re­spon­sive. Mar­quez waited near the am­bu­lance.

“When I was there, an of­fi­cer came and said, ‘Sorry, your mom didn’t make it,’” she said.

Daniel Fry, a Cal Fire emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian who had ar­rived to aid Me­d­ina, tes­ti­fied that he was im­me­di­ately told Me­d­ina was a “red tag,” or in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Af­ter she was pulled from the BMW, Fry said that he saw she had se­vere in­juries to her legs. They were de­formed be­low her knees, he said, and the bones were no longer in­tact.

“They were se­ri­ous in­juries,” Fry said.

EMPTY BEER BOT­TLE FOUND

When the pros­e­cu­tion’s main in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the case, CHP Of­fi­cer Rachelle Fouts, ar­rived to the scene, Mo­rales had al­ready been taken via am­bu­lance to Mar­ian Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where he was be­ing treated in the crit­i­cal care unit.

Fouts tes­ti­fied that an empty Corona beer bot­tle was found on or near the driver’s seat of Mo­rales’ Honda.

Mo­rales un­der­went two blood draws at the hos­pi­tal. One of those came back with a .276 blood alcohol con­tent, Fouts tes­ti­fied; it was not clear from the tes­ti­mony what the re­sults from the other test were.

She also re­vealed that Mo­rales had two prior DUI con­vic­tions, and that he had sus­tained a brain in­jury re­quir­ing three weeks of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion when he frac­tured his skull in April 2018 af­ter fall­ing from a se­cond-floor bal­cony while drink­ing.

She tes­ti­fied that Mo­rales was co­op­er­a­tive and agreed to talk to her with­out an at­tor­ney when she in­ter­viewed him two days af­ter the crash. Fouts tes­ti­fied that Mo­rales told her he had spent the night at a quinceañera him­self with a friend and con­sumed about four 12-ounce beers over about two hours. There was some dis­agree­ment with the hosts of the party, and the two left to the friend’s house.

The friend gave Mo­rales cof­fee and told him not to drive, ac­cord­ing to Fouts’ tes­ti­mony.

“I asked him, ‘Do you think you should have been out there driv­ing?’” Fouts re­called of their in­ter­view. “He said no.”

She said Mo­rales told her he was driv­ing about 65 mph be­fore the crash (the speed limit was 45 mph), and that he flashed his high beams when he saw the BMW to alert them and tried to swerve at the last minute.

Dur­ing cross ex­am­i­na­tion, de­fense at­tor­ney Adrian An­drade asked Fouts if Me­d­ina was heav­ily med­i­cated when he con­sented to talk­ing with her. Fouts replied that though she didn’t know, Mo­rales “had a clear mind.”

Due to wit­ness sched­ul­ing is­sues, the pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing did not con­clude Thurs­day and is sched­uled to re­sume May 24.

Edgar Mo­rales

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