Misdemeanor Manslaughter Dismissed Before Trial
On October 22, 2015, my client was driving to work at approximately 6:35 in the morning. It was before sunrise. The street was dimly lit. There were two women walking in a crosswalk. My client was behind a white Toyota Prius driving the speed limit. The driver of the Prius barely missed hitting the two women in the crosswalk. My client never saw the two sisters who stepped in front of his GMC Suburban and hit the second of the two killing her. My client applied his brakes and his vehicle stopped approximately 90 feet later. My client was sober and alert and without any prior convictions.
The driver of the Prius pulled into the shopping center and contacted Mountain View police officers who had stopped there for coffee. She told the police of the accident. The women were wearing dark clothing and nothing reflective. She almost hit them and did not see them as they were crossing in the crosswalk. She said that she thought that the vehicle driving behind her hit one, or both, of the women. We had the driver of the Prius and her husband, who was the passenger at the time interviewed. The husband was never interviewed by the police and was not even listen in the police report as a witness.
There was a video surveillance camera at a Chevron gas station that was facing the street. The video was very dark but showed the women crossing in the crosswalk. They walked together to a small island in the middle of the street. They were nearly hit by the Prius and then walked into the oncoming Suburban driven by my client.
California law requires all drivers to give the right-of-way to pedestrians in a crosswalk. However, the law requires pedestrians to exercise equal care in not stepping into the path of oncoming traffic.
Interestingly, the city of Mountain View almost immediately increased the lighting at that intersection of El Monte Avenue and Marich Way. The City also trimmed all the trees that covered the streetlights along that corridor.
We immediately had the video enhanced by video expert, QB White, owner of Light Assisted Design. He also video recorded the crime scene exactly one-year after the accident at the same time. He also recreated the accident in 3D animation with models to scale of the Suburban following the Prius. Mr. White incorporated the studies of vehicle headlights turned slightly down and to the right, with two human models to scale coming from left to right.
I hired an accident reconstruction expert, Chris Kauderer, of Kauderer and Associates. Mr. Kauderer is an expert in accident reconstruction including human time responses to danger and determining speed at the time of the accident and distances required to stop after an accident based upon speed at the time of the accident. His study concluded that my client did not have time to respond to the pedestrians and was traveling less than the posted speed limit at the time of the collision. He concluded that the collision was an accident rather than criminal negligence.
There were three different deputy district attorneys assigned to this case from beginning. The Deputy District Attorney assigned to the case at trial was not convinced by the accident reconstruction expert report. She would hire a prosecution expert to testify otherwise.
The medical report of the deceased woman showed that she had methamphetamine in her system. So, I hired a toxicology expert, Randall Baselt, to render an opinion about the level of methamphetamine in the woman’s system. He wrote:
During the resuscitative efforts, 400mL of blood was removed from the thoracic cavity and 2500 mL of blood products as transfused into the patient. A fluoridated central blood specimen was obtained from the decedent at 1015 on 10/23/2015 and as found by National Medical Services to contain 510 ng/mL methamphetamine and 120 ng/mL amphetamine.
A 12/5 mg high therapeutic methamphetamine dose given orally to a healthy woman would be expected to produce a blood methamphetamine concentration of approximately 15-20 ng/mL during the first 6 hours of administration. If this dose were given by smoking, nasal insufflations or intravenous injection, s would normally be performed by a person abusing the drug, the blood concentration could reach 40-60 ng/mL. The 510 ng/mL level is approximately ten times that concentration, and therefore the dose needed to produce that level would be necessarily much higher than 12/5 mg. Persons arrested for drunk driving under the influence of drugs who had similar blood methamphetamine concentrations exhibited nervousness, rapid speech, confusion, agitation and irrational or violent behavior. Methamphetamine usage is known to increase risk-taking behavior and impulsiveness.
I consider that the methamphetamine does that would have to have been consumed by Ms. Montalvo to produce her blood concentration of the drug would have significantly impaired her perception and judgment at the time of the accident.
Mr. Baselt was prepared to testify beyond his report that resuscitative efforts such as heart compressions (CPR) would pump more drugs into her blood stream. However, 400 mL of blood was removed from her thoracic cavity meaning her blood that contained methamphetamine was removed from her body, while 2500 mL of clean donor blood was added to her system in the attempt to keep her alive. The compression would have increased the amount of meth in her system. However, the loss of blood and the replacement of 2500 mL of blood in her system would have served to seriously reduce the level of drug per volume of blood. Therefore, the 510 ng/mL in her system was exceedingly high.
Mr. Kauderer had suggested that the drugs in the victim’s system had to have been a contributing factor in the accident. I thanked him and told him that was outside the area of his expertise. I had engaged Mr. Baselt and was waiting for his analysis.
I forwarded all the expert reports to the District Attorney handling the case. She dismissed the charges before jury trial was to begin.
It might have been a very interesting case to have taken to jury trial. However, it would have been at great expense to my client. There are no guarantees for the outcome of a jury trial. I always work to get a case dismissed before jury trial. A jury trial would have likely cost my client an additional $50,000.