Preliminary Hearing in the Hit and Run Accident Fatality in Davis

hit-and-runby Silvia Ramos Medina

On the afternoon of July 24, 2014, in Judge Paul Richardson’s courtroom, Armando Gonzalez’s preliminary hearing continued. The defendant sat in custody, and was accompanied by his attorney, Clemente Jimenez.

Defendant Armando Gonzalez is being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter and hit and run.

Allegedly, on February 1, 2014, the defendant hit a motor vehicle, resulting in the death of an 85-year-old woman. Gonzalez did not stop to aid the victim and instead proceeded to drive. Shortly after, he rear-ended another vehicle. The victims in this second collision did not sustain serious injuries.

Before the preliminary hearing began, Judge Richardson asked the bailiff to unshackle Mr. Gonzalez.

Shortly after, Officer Joshua Helton sat down to finish his testimony from the previous day, and DDA Kyle Hasapes began his interrogation.

Officer Helton stated that on the day of the accident, Mr. Gonzalez disclosed he had been suffering from epilepsy since the age of three.

Hasapes asked Mr. Helton if there was ever a language barrier during his interaction with the defendant.

“Not to my understanding. He understood the questions.”

“If you felt he didn’t understand you, would you have done something different?” DDA Hasapes asked. And Officer Helton responded, “Yes.”

Officer Helton further stated that initially Mr. Gonzalez admitted to being on two types of medications for epilepsy: Carbatrol and Tegretol. When Officer Helton asked Mr. Gonzalez a second time, he mentioned the medications, Keppra and Tegretol.

Upon further questioning by DDA Hasapes, Officer Helton stated he had the defendant take sobriety tests on the night of the incident.

“How about a walk and turn test?” queried DDA Hasapes.

“Yes.”

Officer Helton declared that he demonstrated to Mr. Gonzalez how to do the test, and “he failed to perform the test as instructed.”

Next, defense attorney Clemente Jimenez stood for cross-examination.

“How long after the collision, did you arrive?”

“Fifteen to twenty minutes after… his speech was slow. He didn’t seem confused.” Officer Helton responded.

“Did my client indicate to you that he had previously been in an accident and that he had sustained injuries in his legs?”

“Yes.”

During re-direct, DDA Hasapes told Officer Helton to refer to his report. Officer Helton stated that the defendant verbalized that prior to the collisions “his head hurt really badly, so that’s why he inadvertently closed his eyes.”

Judge Richardson then interjected shortly, “I have a couple of questions. You said, ‘inadvertently closed his eyes.’ Do you remember the language he used specifically?”

“No. I would have to refer to the video,” Officer Helton replied.

“Do you know at what point, in his continuum of driving, did he fall asleep?”

“No… He heard a bump but couldn’t explain what that bump was.”

The next witness, Officer Jesse Dacanay, walked up to the stand. At the time of the incident, Officer Dacanay had been a police officer with the city of Davis for seven years.

“I was paged in for a major collision… On Covell near Baywood… Then near Pole Line Road… I photographed the scene. The roadway had been closed down. There was a Chevy Impala resting east, wrapped around a tree… A variety of debris from what appeared as a white Toyota.”

DDA Amanda Zambor walked up to Officer Dacanay, and showed him People’s Exhibits 20 through 27. Officer Dacanay recognized all exhibits and gave short descriptions of each and every exhibit. The exhibits were photographs of the Impala facing southwest, the rear bumper of the Impala, the friction or paint transfer between the Impala and Toyota, the front bumper of the Toyota that was found in the debris field, and the front rail of the Toyota vehicle.

Next, Officer Dacanay stated that West Sacramento officers had mapped out the scene of the accident.

“The Impala was traveling West… A Toyota struck the Impala… The Toyota pushed the Impala from the rear…spinning the vehicle 180 degrees. The vehicle made contact with a tree and the vehicle came to a rest,” Officer Dacanay described.

As Officer Dacanay recollected, when he went to the second collision scene, only one vehicle was on the scene. The white Toyota was stopped on the lane and the parts missing on the vehicle were consistent with the other scene.

“Did you take statements from victims and witnesses?” DDA Zambor asked.

“I contacted Julie Mohr. She was the driver of the Jeep in the second collision site. She was struck from the rear to the middle of the intersection. She saw the other man looking at his car for damage.”

When DDA Zambor asked Officer Dacanay if the victim had given a description of the defendant, Mr. Dacanay stated that she had simply stated he was male. Knowing that Mr. Dacanay was mistaken, DDA Zambor asked the officer to refer to his police report.

“She described a Hispanic male, about thirty years old, and wearing a white shirt.”

Officer Dacanay also mentioned that Ms. Mohr had her daughter with her when the collision occurred. When asked the child’s age, Mr. Dacanay referred to his report, and stated she was twelve.

“I contacted Ms. Mohr at her house to identify the defendant in a photo lineup. I don’t recall if she was able to identify the defendant in the photo line-up.”

DDA Zambor then smiled at Officer Dacanay and asked, “Are you sure certain of the photo lineup?”

“I’m not…I apologize. I had an hour and a half of sleep.”

“And you were here yesterday,” DDA Zambor added.

“Yes, I was out in the hall.”

After looking at his reports once again, Officer Dacanay stood corrected. In fact, he had not contacted Ms. Mohr for a photo lineup; he had contacted the victim to photograph her Jeep.

“Did you help do a search warrant for the DMV records?” DDA Zambor inquired.

Officer Dacanay admitted that he had helped obtain the DMV records. From those records, he discovered that on August 24, 2007, the defendant had filled out a driver’s license renewal form. Where the checkbox asked if there had been prior suspensions, the defendant had marked “no.” Where the form asked if that person had a medical condition, the defendant had also marked “no.”

Moreover, Officer Dacanay had obtained an audio recording with a DMV interview. That audio was dated October of 2010.

On the recording, “did he indicate whether a doctor had told him not to drive?” DDA Zambor asked.

Mr. Gonzalez’s attorney, Mr. Jimenez, spoke out, “Hearsay. Was this obtained through subpoena?”

Judge Richardson then inquired, “Does it acknowledge who is speaking? Is it authenticated?”

“Did the defendant state his name in the beginning?” DDA Zambor asked Officer Dacanay.

“Yes…He said his doctor had not discussed not driving.”

“Who was the declarant on the DMV renewal form?” Judge Richardson asked.

“The defendant,” Officer Dacanay answered.

“What did the defendant say happened during the collision?” DDA Zambor continued.

“I’m sorry. I don’t recall.”

DDA Zambor asked Officer Dacanay to refer to reports.

“He indicated he had fallen asleep… not a seizure,” Officer Dacanay now recalled.

During cross-examination, Mr. Gonzalez’s attorney, Mr. Jimenez, gave Officer Dacanay a hypothetical example of two vehicles involved in a collision. Mr. Dacanay expressed that he did not understand the hypothetical example, and once again apologized for being tired.

“You have car one traveling at a certain velocity, it comes in contact with car two. Car one is going to slow down, correct?” Jimenez explained again.

“Yes,” Officer Dacanay declared.

After DDA Zambor asked Officer Dacanay one more question, Judge Richardson added, “Can this witness leave and get some much needed sleep?”

Officer Nick Doane walked in as the next witness. He disclosed that he had been a peace officer for nine years in the city of Davis.

Officer Doane had gone to Swift Dodge where Mr. Gonzalez had previously been employed.

A Mr. Riley had told Officer Doane that he would see Mr. Gonzalez “blanking out” at work. “He would stare off and not respond. He could wave his hand in front of the defendant and he wouldn’t respond.”

Officer Doane added that on February 1, 2014, the day of the incident, Mr. Gonzalez had mentioned to Mr. Riley that he had a headache and needed to go home from work.

“Would it refresh your memory to look at your notes,” DDA Zambor imparted.

“Mr. Gonzalez had stated that his stomach hurt,” Officer Doane corrected himself.

Mr. Doane then stated that he had obtained two search warrants for Gonzalez’s doctor’s records. Officer Doane had gone to the doctor’s home because his practice no longer existed. He said the first records he received were not a complete medical record. So, he went back with the second search warrant. According to Officer Doane, the doctor’s wife did not want to hand over the medical records willingly. She wanted him to pay for the medical records.

“I explained to her what a search warrant was. I specified I needed all records.”

Officer Doane then received all medical records.

Furthermore, Officer Doane testified that, at Swift Dodge, Mr. Gonzalez’s coworker had trained and worked with the defendant. This coworker had witnessed the defendant “blanking out.” And he never asked the defendant about these occurrences because “he didn’t want to get into his business.”

The defendant’s coworker had also told Officer Doane that he believed Mr. Gonzalez rode the bus to work, and he was not aware of any medical conditions.

DDA Zambor then told Officer Doane to refer to his report. “He had complained of headaches, but had never seen him have seizures.”

Officer Doane also declared that he had contacted a Mr. Kramer. He and the defendant had worked together on a daily basis. They worked together from November to February 1, 2014.

As stated by Officer Doane, Mr. Kramer had seen the defendant blanking out. During “blanking out” he would have a “1,000 yard stare.”

“Mr. Kramer believed they were seizures because he had done some research,” Officer Doane further commented.

“Objection. That’s speculation,” Mr. Jimenez proclaimed.

“Sustained.”

“Mr. Kramer said two episodes occurred early that day on February 1, 2014.”

“Did Mr. Kramer see Gonzalez come to and from work?” DDA Zambor asked.

Officer Doane told DDA Zambor that sometimes the defendant would come to work by bus, sometimes he would drive himself, and other times, his wife would drive him to work.

During cross-examination, Mr. Jimenez only had one question.

“Did anyone say he was not able to perform his duties as assigned?”

“No.”

The last witness for the day, Officer Andrew Penrose, walked into the courtroom. He had been a Davis Police Officer for seventeen years.

Officer Penrose testified that he had interviewed a witness at the collision. According to the witness, the defendant, traveling in a Toyota, rear-ended the Jeep. “He said the car did not apply brakes or avoid the collision.”

Neither the defense nor the People had any further questions.

Armando Gonzalez’s preliminary hearing will continue on July 30, 2014, at 8:30 am in Department One. The preliminary hearing is expected to last the whole morning.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I am unclear about what the DA is attempting to achieve in this case. Is the goal to protect the society ? If so, it would seem to me that the obvious solution would be to prohibit this individual from driving. Another alternative would be to confine him to his home via an ankle device. Is the goal some form of retribution since there was a death involved ? Whom does this serve ? Whom does it deter from a similar event ?

    1. Silvia

      Tia, I am also curious to see what the DA will do in this case. And, I also look forward to the reaction of a jury–if this does in fact go to trial. Thanks for reading.

    2. hpierce

      Ok…sounds like your recommended outcome is revocation of driver’s license. Period. For all charges. Would you allow the City or the family of the deceased woman to bring a Civil suit, or should everyone just chalk the damage to public property, private property, and death (including investigative costs, clearance of debris from vehicles etc.) up to “stff happens” and move on?

  2. Tia Will

    hpierce

    I am not sure how you arrived at that conclusion. I said that if there was any indication of future danger to society that an ankle bracelet type of arrangement could be made. I do not believe that incarcerating non violent people is a good solution for anyone. I think that allowing a civil suit by the family would be a reasonable option. There is no doubt that they have incurred real harm and some kind of reparation is reasonable. I do not see prison as any kind of reparation at all. All that would provide is revenge and I fail to see how that helps anyone. Here we are talking about a mental or physical lapse of consciousness, not a deliberate, premeditated act likely to be repeated, especially if Mr. Gonzalez is not permitted to drive again. The damage to public and private property should be handled however it is handled when there is an accident, unless of course you believe that his actions were deliberate, but I do not see the evidence for that in what has been provided here.

    If you are thinking that incarceration is the best option here, I would be interested to hear your rationale.

    1. hpierce

      Tia… it depends… epilepsy is an illness… so is alcoholism. If you know you have epilepsy, are taking meds, and aren’t feeling well, you should not get behind the wheel, any more than someone who has had too much to drink.

      My reaction (why I raised Civil actions) was it appeared that the damage caused by the defendant was “trivial’ in your view. It is not. Will incarceration bring back the deceased or restore the physical damage caused by his actions? NO. Are there other things that “justice demands”? Am thinking YES. Not sure how “restorative justice” might apply, if at all.

      1. Tia Will

        Hpierce

        Again I do not see how you are getting from what t wrote that I believe that the damage was “trivial”.

        What have I ever said that would make you think that I value human life any less than you do ?
        Material possessions, maybe, but human life ” no”. But now we are faced with other human lives, those of the accused and his family. Are we to discount the humanity of their lives by taking a retributive stance ? I would say that depends on a number of questions to which we do not have the answer..

        How stable was his epilepsy ? Had he been medically cleared to drive ? Had he previously driven in whatever state he felt himself to be in before he got behind the wheel? Was what the co worker was witnessing petit mal or absence seizures ? If so, the accused may not even have been aware that they were occurring. And what if he did fall asleep behind the wheel ? Anyone who has ever gotten drowsy behind the wheel will know that you may have had plenty of sleep the night before and felt fine when you started out. I have also driven when I had a headache. I doubt I am alone.

    2. Offering Balance

      “All that would provide is revenge and I fail to see how that helps anyone. Here we are talking about a mental or physical lapse of consciousness, not a deliberate, premeditated act likely to be repeated, especially if Mr. Gonzalez is not permitted to drive again.”

      Every person who gets a ticket or is arrested for driving without a license or driving on a suspended license is not permitted to drive. Anyone caught driving on a suspended license has already been told not to do so.

      This article is missing some details regarding the driving status of Mr Gonzalez. Hopefully they come out in court. If he had previously been ordered not to drive by a doctor or had a suspended license due to his illness or prior driving incidents, I think incarceration would be appropriate. Sometimes people need to be incarcerated to protect the public, not just for retribution.

      1. Adrian Arias Gonzalez

        Unfortunately a lot of answers were given Thursday for my brother’s trial. His doctor posed him no bigger threat than anyone else on the road. He refers to a study he read indicating anyone seizure free for more than 3 months statistically posed no greater risk. His doctor was a mandated reporter but still felt no risk even when he had been having a few seizures occasionally (stress, medication level changes, etc.) all variables that could change things. Nonetheless the doctor would suggest he not drive for 2 week periods when he felt things were declining. As a mandated reporter he never once told him he was gonna contact DMV, and at no point did he. Apart from that, nobody at his work ever really saw him have seizures, it was only “word of mouth” situations where they had heard he would blank out and nobody actually seeing him except for the one person who googled the condition (a bit of a stretch, because he is worried he might be having seizures, yet never reported to his supervisors any speculation of danger?). Most of that context was from an interview on July 9th. 5 months after the accident. Nobody as to my knowledge was questioned before. Officer Helton was EMT trained and also has a father with epilepsy, and at first acknowledged that his first observation was that he was in a recovery stage of an episode. The judge actually had to stop the DA’s questioning to kinda tell them to get to the point because they spent 10-20 minutes questioning him about his past experiences with his father.

        We feel for the family of the deceased. We know. It isn’t something we don’t take into consideration. But all it appears to be for us is revenge now. Armando had a clean rap sheet. No priors or anything (not even tickets). He was the type of person to go 70 on the freeway and piss us off because he wouldn’t speed up. He was and is a rule follower. I have other brothers that I would have a hard time believing innocence, but not Armando. He missed the birth of his first son and his family has struggled because of this. We have help from the Epilepsy foundation of America who are in contact with our lawyer. We just want to be able to have him back and with his son. So much misinformation from the Davis Enterprise labels him a monster. He isn’t a monster.

        The only thing I see is the perjury charges because he did check the boxes off wrong. Knowing Armando, he may have just checked the box without reading them in line at the DMV for his renewals. At worst it would just be an inconvenience that he check off yes because his doctor would have cleared him to drive anyways.

  3. Dave Hart

    I would not want to be on the jury for this trial. According to the Enterprise this morning, Mr. Gonzalez and his wife are expecting their first baby. What happens to them if jail or prison time for 2nd degree murder is the final answer? I agree with Tia that nobody is better off with that scenario, except for the prison guards’ union.

    At the same time he’s alleged to have lied about his medical situation to get the driver’s license. In the end, the alleged perjury on the driver’s license application, if proved, may be the fundamental crime and would justify some jail time.

    And what would a civil lawsuit do for any plaintiff? Working at Swift Dodge as a “lubrication technician” suggests Mr. Gonzalez has no money. This is just a tragedy all the way around.

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