DUI crash suspect with multiple deportations returns to court; lawyer says he wasn't the driver

The lawyer representing a man accused of causing an alcohol-fueled crash in San Ysidro that seriously injured a 6-year-old boy has said she intends to argue that her client was not the person behind the wheel that night.

Constantino Banda Acosta, who has been deported at least 15 times, appeared in Superior Court in Chula Vista briefly Thursday, when lawyers on both sides agreed to postpone a preliminary hearing to June 6.

Deputy Public Defender Juliana Humphrey told the judge that she intends to show that “Mr. Banda was not the driver” of a pickup that smashed into a Honda, injuring Lennox Lake and his parents. She did not elaborate on the defense’s theory.

Banda, 38, was arrested shortly after the May 6 crash that left Lennox with a fractured skull. The boy has been hospitalized since, having surgery to repair his skull and receiving treatment for a strep infection. Lennox was listed in good condition, a hospital spokesman said Thursday.

San Diego police have said the defendant sped through a stop sign in San Ysidro and slammed his pickup into the side of a Honda Accord belonging to the Lake family, who were returning from a trip to Disneyland.

Lennox, who was in a car seat, was on the side of the car that took the brunt of the impact, his father said last week. He was knocked unconscious and stopped breathing. He was also bleeding from his ears and nose.

The boy’s parents, Benjamin and Ingrid Lake, suffered minor injuries.

At Banda’s arraignment last week, Humphrey asked that prosecutors make sure a material witness, probably the man taken into custody with Banda, not be deported pending further investigation.

The witness was being held by immigration authorities.

The driver of the pickup kept going after the collision, police said, and Banda was arrested about a mile away by Border Patrol agents who found him in the damaged pickup with a passenger.

Immigration officials say Banda has been returned to Mexico at least 15 times since 2002 for being in the U.S. illegally, most recently in January.

He has previous misdemeanor convictions for domestic battery, driving on a suspended license and DUI.

Banda has pleaded not guilty to felony charges including driving under the influence of alcohol and hit and run. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of driving without a license.

If convicted, he faces a possible sentence of seven years and eight months in prison.

dana.littlefield@sduniontribune.com

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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