A Superior Court jury found a teen-age driver guilty Wednesday on six counts of second-degree murder for leading Border Patrol agents on a harrowing chase through Temecula that ended in the deaths of four high school students, one of their parents and a passenger in the teen-ager’s car.
Judge Ronald R. Neumann must now decide whether the driver, Jesus Sandoval Macias, should be sentenced as a juvenile or as an adult. Macias, who turns 18 on Friday, was tried as an adult.
Macias, who was 16 at the time of June 2, 1992, crash, could be placed in the custody of the California Youth Authority until he turns 25, or face from 16 years to life in prison as an adult.
Macias, a Mexican national, was driving a truck with 12 illegal immigrants on board. He testified that he led the chase through Temecula because he feared the smuggler who was in charge would kill him if he stopped. The chase ended in a crash in front of Temecula Valley High School just as students were arriving for class.
Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Creg Datig argued that Macias acted with malice in driving at such high speeds. Datig said in court that Macias almost caused six other collisions before he tore through an intersection in front of the school where his truck sliced a car in half, killing the two passengers and the driver. The truck ran into a brother and sister who were walking across the street, killing both of them.
The showing of malice elevated the crime from vehicular manslaughter to second-degree murder. Because there was no premeditation, first-degree murder convictions were not sought.
The crash killed John Davis, a local banker, and the two passengers in his car--his son, Todd Davis, 18, and a friend, Monisa Emilio, 14, and pedestrians Gloria Murillo, 17, and Jose Murillo, 16. One of the dozen passengers in Macias’ vehicle, Enicefero Vargas Gomez, 21, of Mexico, died later of his injuries. Macias escaped injury.
The chase and resulting deaths sparked criticism of the Border Patrol for chasing a vehicle through school and residential zones, even though witnesses said the agents’ car slowed as it approached the school and was traveling at only 35 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h., well behind Macias’ truck as it sped ahead.
The incident sparked a congressional hearing and review of pursuit policies. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agreed to prohibit chases when the immediate danger of the chase is greater than the potential danger if the suspects remain at large, and to notify local authorities when a pursuit is in progress.
Datig said the alleged smuggler, Alfredo Flores, is expected to be prosecuted, but would not discuss his whereabouts.
Another passenger in the truck, Eddie Rodriguez, has been convicted in federal court for his role in smuggling the immigrants into the United States.