A 22-year-old Marine was drunk and knew the dangers when he got behind the wheel and killed a Newport Beach man in a crash last year, prosecutors said during opening statements of his trial Thursday.
Lance Cpl. Elijah Leigh Ferguson, of Santa Ana, is charged with murder and faces up to 18 years to life in prison if convicted of killing Michael Sein, 63, in a crash on MacArthur Boulevard in February 2008.
The Orange County district attorney’s office charged Ferguson with murder instead of a lesser charge because he allegedly was given a safety briefing about drinking and driving by commanders hours before the crash.
In witness testimony Thursday afternoon, Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Price established that Ferguson was among the many Marines at Camp Pendleton who was reminded Feb. 22, 2008, about not drinking and driving when they go out on the town.
But Ferguson didn’t listen, Price said.
Prosecutors said Ferguson started drinking in the middle of the day and fell asleep. His fellow Marines took away his keys, knowing he intended to drive home to Santa Ana. Authorities said that when Ferguson woke up, he pulled rank on the Marine who had his keys and took them back and headed to Santa Ana.
Police said he was doing about 75 mph down MacArthur Boulevard, in a 50 mph zone, when he rear-ended Sein’s car waiting at the red light at Jamboree Road. Sein died 30 minutes later in hospital.
His wife, Grace Sein, was also in the car and suffered critical injuries. She survived.
Ferguson suffered a broken ankle. When police talked to him in the hospital, he had slurred speech and smelled of alcohol, prosecutors said.
Ferguson’s attorney, Public Defender Stephen Womack, focused his questions Thursday on his client’s mental state. Ferguson was trying to get home to work out problems with his wife and he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he claimed.
Cpl. Luke Hughes, a friend of Ferguson’s, said he noticed Ferguson had been drinking more since he returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Hughes talked to Ferguson about it a few times in the months leading up to the crash, Hughes told the jury. Marines don’t want to be diagnosed with PTSD, he testified. Marines tell each other how to answer a psychological questionnaire so they don’t get diagnosed, he said.
The trial will continue Tuesday in courtroom C-52 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.