Driver Guilty in Deaths of 2; Acquitted on Murder Count
A 21-year-old Oceanside who struck and killed two pedestrians with his car along Cardiff’s popular Restaurant Row last year was acquitted of second-degree murder Thursday by a Superior Court jury in Vista.
The jury, however, found the motorist, Rudy Martinez, guilty on two felony counts each of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and driving under the influence of alcohol.
The jury began its deliberations at 2 p.m. Wednesday and returned to Judge Tony Maino’s courtroom at 3:20 p.m. Thursday with its verdict. The deliberations were concluded so swiftly that members of the victims’ families who had attended the trial were not in the courtroom to hear the outcome.
Martinez’s blood alcohol level was 0.14% after the February, 1987, crash, which killed Michael Wolf, 25, and Daniel McAllister, 19. The two men were walking toward an oceanfront restaurant to meet a friend after leaving a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Immunity for Testimony
Prosecutor Tom Manning had argued that Martinez had been drinking beer and Southern Comfort the day of the crash and entered a drag race with another motorist, David Carroll, along Old Highway 101.
Carroll, who was given immunity in exchange for his testimony as a prosecution witness, said he and Martinez both sped away from the traffic light at Manchester Drive, less than a mile north of the restaurants, but that he backed off as the two cars approached the string of eateries that line the highway.
Carroll and other witnesses said Martinez continued to accelerate and was traveling more than 85 m.p.h. in his Chevrolet Camaro when he met slower traffic and swerved first into the center median, then back to the right shoulder. His vehicle sideswiped a parked car and then hit the two men.
Martinez, who testified on his own behalf, said he was not drag racing with Carroll but rather wanted to find out how fast his car could go, and was on a stretch of highway he had not previously driven.
Martinez’s attorney, John Jimenez, argued that, although his client was guilty of driving while intoxicated, he was too inebriated to conclude on his own that he was a danger to others--a requisite to the charge of second-degree murder.
Deliberated 7 1/2 Hours
The jury adopted Martinez’s argument as its own after about 7 1/2 hours of deliberations over the two days, acquitting Martinez of the most severe charge.
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison. Manning said he would argue that Martinez should serve the two terms consecutively.
Had he been convicted of second-degree murder, Martinez could have faced a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
Manning said he spoke after the verdict to several jurors who said two members of the jury were leaning toward conviction for second-degree murder, but backed off.
‘A Tough Area of Law’
“I think there was enough factual evidence to convict him of second-degree murder, but it was a close call and it’s a tough area of law,” Manning said. “It requires specific interpretations of the evidence and they didn’t feel they could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Martinez had subjective awareness he was a danger to others.”
The finding of gross negligence, the next most severe conviction possible, means that Martinez’s conduct was dangerous and life-threatening, although he was unable to make that judgment himself.
During the trial, both sides were ordered not to refer to the incident as “an accident,” but as a collision.
Jimenez previously had argued in court motions that the district attorney’s office was “selectively prosecuting” Martinez because prosecutors had targeted non-whites with second-degree murder charges. Maino, however, rejected Jimenez’s contention.