Sheriff’s deputies and a forensic scientist testified Thursday in a preliminary hearing in the case against a man accused of murdering a Costa Mesa fire captain when he struck him with a van last year, saying the defendant had multiple substances in his blood and exhibited signs of drug impairment at the time of the crash.
Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo faces one count of murder in the death of Mike Kreza, 44, of Rancho Santa Margarita, who was hit while riding his bicycle off duty in Mission Viejo on Nov. 3. Kreza died from his injuries two days later.
About two dozen friends and family members surrounded Kreza’s wife, Shanna, in Orange County Superior Court in Newport Beach. Also attending were members of the Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue Department, where Kreza served for 18 years before his death.
Orange County Senior Deputy District Atty. Daniel Feldman painted the defendant as having acted recklessly while knowing the potential consequences.
County sheriff’s Deputy Christian Servin responded to the collision and testified that he found Scarpa sitting on the curb of Alicia Parkway, where he had driven off the road and eight feet across the curb line, sidewalk and an embankment, hitting Kreza.
When he was questioning Scarpa, he said, he observed “slurred speech” and “repetitive movements.”
“His fingers were moving and his feet were moving; he couldn’t stand still,” Servin said.
“He said he was upset” and that “he shouldn’t have been driving because he was upset,” Servin said.
Servin testified that Scarpa told him he had taken pills and used intravenous drugs and hadn’t slept in nearly two days.
“He said he had injected a combination of meth and fentanyl at [a] party earlier that day,” Servin said.
According to Servin, Scarpa also said he had taken lorazepam, which is typically used to manage anxiety.
“He said he still felt the effects of the drugs,” said Servin, who added that he observed injection marks on Scarpa’s body at the time.
Scarpa was unable to complete the one-legged stand or heel-to-toe walk that are part of the standard drug recognition test, Servin said.
Scarpa’s attorney Rudy Lowenstein emphasized that Scarpa said he had been unsettled by the crash and even was upset beforehand.
“He was upset because he hit a tree and thought he’d hit several people, is it true?” Lowenstein asked Servin, noting that sheriff’s reports said his client cried various times while in custody.
“One explanation is that he’s under the influence. Another explanation is that he’s one of those people that after an accident like this he’s still shaking, right?” Lowenstein said.
A toxicologist testified that a report by the Orange County Crime Lab identified seven substances in Scarpa’s blood sample collected after the collision, including prescription drugs, street drugs and metabolites, or byproducts of other substances the body has metabolized.
The report identified the presence of amphetamine, methamphetamine, carboxy THC, gabapentine, lorazepam, mitragynine and norburprenorphine, according to crime lab toxicology supervisor Ariana Adeva.
Though several substances were determined to be in ranges consistent with treatment guidelines prescribed by doctors, Adeva said combining drugs could have an “additive effect,” heightening possible impairment.
“With all that info and my knowledge of drugs that were present, that person would be consistent with somebody who is impaired,” Adeva said.
Lowenstein suggested his client could have fallen asleep at the wheel or lost consciousness.
Sheriff’s deputies testified that Scarpa fell asleep before and after being interrogated. And 10 months before the Nov. 3 crash, Scarpa was in another collision. It was determined, his attorney said, that he had lost consciousness, possibly due to fainting, a blackout or a seizure.
Lowenstein questioned whether toxicology results could differentiate whether a crash was caused by falling asleep at the wheel as opposed to intoxication. Adeva said toxicological information could not determine the cause of a collision.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Shane Stewart said Scarpa told him he had driven under the influence before, including with his 3-year-old daughter in the vehicle. Stewart said he also interviewed Scarpa’s grandparents, who said they were aware that Scarpa had a substance abuse problem and had attended drug rehabilitation. They said Scarpa “knew better” than to drive while impaired, Stewart said.
When Scarpa was a senior at Esperanza High School in Anaheim, he participated in an “Every 15 Minutes” program in 2011, according to video obtained from the school. The program, which simulates car crashes and the resulting injuries and deaths, aims to teach teenagers “the dangers of driving under the influence as well as dangers of driving while distracted,” sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Johnson testified.
Scarpa “was actually one of the people ‘killed’ in that car crash,” Johnson said of Scarpa’s role in the simulation.
Scarpa’s attorney motioned for the court to lessen the charge against Scarpa to gross vehicular manslaughter.
Judge Joy Wiesenfeld Markman kept the murder charge in place. Scarpa, who is being held at Orange County Jail with bail set at $2 million, is scheduled back in court Sept. 9.