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Trial Under Way for Driver Accused in Deaths of Four

Times Staff Writer

A Fullerton woman never had a chance to swerve to avoid a careening car that struck her vehicle at 71 m.p.h., killing her and her three children, a prosecutor said Wednesday at the start of the murder trial of driver Michael Wesley Reding.

The impact on Pamela Trueblood’s car, which was much lighter and smaller than the defendant’s car, smashed the front end back to the dashboard and pushed the steering wheel to the left rear seat, Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Jacobs told jurors in Orange County Superior Court.

Reding, 27, is charged with second-degree murder and drunk driving causing injury.

Bartender Testifies

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The prosecution’s first witness, a bartender at the Laredo Bar in Brea, testified that on the night of the accident, Reding had consumed five beers and four kamikazes, which are served in a one-ounce shot glass and consist of half an ounce of vodka, half an ounce of triple sec, lime juice, and sweet and sour mix. The bartender, William E. Metzler Jr., said he had refused to serve Reding any more liquor.

Just before the accident, witnesses said they saw Reding drive on the right shoulder to pass a car, then veer left across three lanes before colliding with the victim’s car, Jacobs said.

Trueblood and her children, Scott, 8, Kerry, 9, and Eric, 11, were killed in the crash last Oct. 23 on State College Boulevard in Fullerton. Two other children in the car, Brian Rector, 12, and Shawn Ratcliff, 2, survived their injuries.

“My client has not denied responsibility,” said Reding’s attorney, Heidi Mueller, adding that Reding will testify on his behalf.

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In prior court proceedings, Reding has conceded that he was drunk (police found that he had a .108% blood-alcohol content, over the legal limit of .10) but has said that he did not mean to harm anyone.

The defense will focus on his mental state at the time and will claim that he was suicidal because of serious injuries he had received months earlier when a car struck him.

On Crutches Four Weeks

“The origin of this case really began Aug. 13, 1984, when (Reding) was injured by a car as a pedestrian in a parking lot at Northrop Corp. He was left on crutches for four weeks,” Mueller said.

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Reding’s behavior changed after that, she said. He went to work only sporadically because of persistent pain. With time on his hands, he started to frequent Laredo’s, she added.

Also, Reding will tell the jury that he can only recall driving on the shoulder and then being carried on a gurney inside St. Jude Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Fullerton, Mueller said.

But at the hospital and before he was told about the fatalities, Mueller said, Reding told a nurse to inject him with cyanide, a potent poison, asked a police officer for a gun and signed a hospital or police document: Michael “Better off Dead” Reding.

At Laredo’s, she said, Reding had not been “loud or boisterous. Michael Reding is shy and the kind of person to be introverted. But the bartender noticed him becoming more talkative, which was out of character for Michael Reding.”

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Husband Remarried

No defendant in Orange County has yet been convicted of murder in a traffic fatality case since the state Supreme Court decided three years ago to allow prosecutors to file second-degree murder charges.

Pamela Trueblood’s husband, Robert, and half a dozen other family members and friends listened to the testimony Wednesday. Trueblood, who has remarried, said, “I intend to be here every day” as a visible reminder of the victims’ loss.

Meanwhile, a Santa Monica physician who ignored a subpoena to testify at Reding’s pretrial hearing telephoned the court Wednesday. Judge James L. Smith had issued a $25,000 arrest warrant against Dr. David Dantes when Dantes failed to appear, saying he wanted a $500 fee as an expert witness.

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Smith said the doctor did not apologize but indicated that he was not served properly with a subpoena, although the court has heard evidence to the contrary.

“Basically, he said he would like to testify and asked if it would be convenient this Friday. I told him (that the delay) is beyond the point of what was convenient to him and that he should surrender to the court as soon as possible,” Smith said.

The doctor asked if he would be detained or jailed, Smith said, to which the judge answered: “That’s a distinct possibility.”

The judge said he offered to hold a contempt hearing as soon as the doctor surrenders to the court to determine whether there were mitigating circumstances for the doctor’s absence.

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