By Lauren King, Jackie Snyder, and Makisha Singh
The trial of Armando Gonzalez began last week, with the defendant represented by Attorney Clemente Jiménez. Mr. Gonzalez was involved in the hit and run fatality of 85-year-old Ruth D. Morales after he experienced a seizure behind the wheel of his white sedan.
On February 1, 2014, Mr. Gonzalez was driving on East Covell Boulevard in Davis when he had a seizure that caused him to lose consciousness and hit Ms. Morales at around 80 miles per hour, in a 40 mile per hour residential zone. Ms. Morales lost control of her vehicle and hit a light pole before spinning 180 degrees and smashing into a tree. The tree was “nearly in the center of the car,” trapping her between it and the vehicle’s interior. Ms. Morales begged bystanders for help and it took firefighters 15-20 minutes to remove her from the vehicle after they arrived at the scene.
Ms. Morales sustained a number of lacerations, a ruptured bladder, a crushed leg, a fractured pelvis, and her foot was rotated outward. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors told her family that she would not survive.
Mr. Gonzalez has suffered from epilepsy for years and has had 49 reported seizures since 2002. He has also had a number of breakthrough seizures, despite being on an anti-epileptic medication. Mr. Gonzalez has gotten into several motor vehicle accidents since 2002. It is thought that each collision occurred after he lost consciousness behind the wheel. Despite these incidents, Mr. Gonzalez did not report his condition to the DMV each time that he reapplied for his driver’s license. On the morning of February 1, 2014, Mr. Gonzalez had experienced two seizures before getting behind the wheel of his vehicle.
After each accident Mr. Gonzalez told law enforcement that someone else had been at fault. One of these accidents was so severe that the bones in both of his legs were shattered. After hitting Ms. Morales on February 1, Mr. Gonzalez sped away and rear-ended another vehicle.
The defendant has been under the care of a neurologist for 8 years. Both the neurologist and the DMV said that Mr. Gonzalez was okay to drive.
Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor called three witnesses during the trial’s first session. Mary Becker was the first witness to testify. Ms. Becker is a paramedic for American Medical Response and was first on the scene on February 1, 2014. When Ms. Becker arrived at Covell and Pole Line Road, she saw a car that was severely damaged. Ms. Morales was very bruised around her mouth area and had blood on her face and in her hair. These observations indicated that something had made contact with the victim’s face. An EMT held Ms. Morales’ neck in place while they waited for firefighters to arrive on scene.
Ms. Morales retained consciousness both inside her vehicle and in the back of the ambulance. Paramedics were not able to give her pain medication due to the nature of her injuries. While in the back of the ambulance, Ms. Morales complained that her face and abdomen hurt. It was difficult for her to get a deep breath because she had diminished breath sounds in one lung. Ms. Becker noted that the victim’s lips were very bruised, her sternum and ribcage were unstable, she had a possible pelvic fracture, a possible femur fracture, and an open fracture and blood on her right leg.
The next witness was a Davis resident who lived near the scene of the accident. The resident was in his driveway on February 1, 2014, and heard a collision. He ran in the direction of the sound. The resident described the sound as “the loudest collision he had ever heard.” As he ran to the scene, he saw a crushed, white “Honda-style hatchback” speeding down the street.
The witness saw a very scared woman in a damaged car and was surprised when she was able to speak to him. He choked up when he told the court that she told him that she was afraid. After a minute or so, the resident ran down the street to find the second car, but was unable to locate it. The resident returned to his home, but soon returned to the scene to speak to law enforcement at the urging of his children.
The last witness was a 24-year-old Carl’s Jr. employee. The young man was driving with his girlfriend to her family’s residence when he saw a white car coming from the opposite direction with severe damage. The bumper of the vehicle was missing and the hood was “jammed up.” Further down the street he saw another substantially damaged car.
There was a lot of damage to the driver’s side of that vehicle and there was a light pole on its side. He did not see or hear the collision. The man said that he did not notice exactly what the vehicle looked like because he was focused on the woman inside. Ms. Zambor showed the witness a picture that had been previously presented to the court and asked him if it was of the second car that he had seen. He replied that it was not.
Court was adjourned for the day and was set to resume April 3, 2015, at 8:30am before Judge Paul K. Richardson. The trial will likely continue all of next week.
April 6 – Morning
Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor called her first witness of the day, a licensed vocational nurse working for the organization, California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG). The witness said she had been contracted by the Yolo County Jail and was working in intake February 1, 2014, the night the accident Gonzalez was involved in took place. The witness testified that when she asked Gonzalez about the date of his last seizure, he stated it was earlier in the day of February 1, 2014. Gonzalez said that he had fallen asleep and had had a car accident. DDA Amanda Zambor then referred to a medication verification form completed on Gonzalez’s behalf. The witness stated that all medication a patient is taking is verified by either the pharmacy that the patient goes through or by the actual medication containers which may be brought in by a family member.
The next witness called to testify was Brian Lynch. Lynch was employed through the City of Davis as Fire Captain and was dispatched to the scene of the accident occurring on February 1, 2014. When asked to describe what Captain Lynch saw upon arriving at the scene. he stated he saw an AMR vehicle attempting to assess the victim and a severely damaged vehicle in a tree. Captain Lynch said that after seeing the vehicle he knew an extraction would be necessary. The tree was located in the section of the vehicle where essentially the driver should be and the dashboard area was crushed in and down with the victim pinned under. When asked if the victim was responsive, Captain Lynch testified she was in and out of consciousness. Captain Lynch testified that once the vehicle was stabilized and the passenger side door was removed, it took approximately twenty-five minutes to extricate the victim from the vehicle. Four crew members, two AMR personnel and Captain Lynch were all involved in the extraction process. Captain Lynch stated that once the victim was removed she lost consciousness. Ground services transported the victim because they did not want to wait for the helicopter.
Dr. Abram Levin, an Emergency Medicine Physician employed through Sutter Davis, was then called to testify. Dr. Levin treated Gonzalez February 1, 2014, after the accident took place. When asked what typical protocol was, for a person who suffered from a seizure disorder and had an accident behind the wheel of a vehicle, Dr. Levin stated that the DMV may be notified and the individual suffering from the seizure disorder would have to be cleared by a doctor before being allowed to operate a vehicle again.
Dr. Levin was then asked several questions about his interaction with Gonzalez in the emergency room. Dr. Levin explained he saw Gonzalez between 4:45pm and 5:15pm after being notified Gonzalez was involved in a vehicle collision. According to the notes provided to Dr. Levin, regarding Gonzalez’s medical history, Gonzalez was brought in by the police after he was involved in an accident that took place when he lost consciousness. Gonzalez’s vehicle was going at least 30 miles per hour at the time of impact (other accounts indicated a higher speed). When asked where this information came from, Dr. Levin said it likely came from a nurse or a police officer who interacted with Gonzalez earlier. Dr. Levin stated that he did not believe Gonzalez knew whether he fell asleep at the wheel or had a seizure. Gonzalez did admit to being involved in a prior incident where he had a seizure while driving resulting in a vehicle accident. This information lead Dr. Levin to believe it was likely Gonzalez suffered a breakthrough seizure while behind the wheel on February 1, 2014, at the time of the accident.
The last witness called before afternoon break was Dr. Pat Moore-Pickett. Dr. Moore-Pickett was a family physician for Sutter Davis. Gonzalez was her patient from 2004 to 2010. During this period of time, Gonzalez was seen by Dr. Moore-Pickett due to his seizure disorder as well as other injuries Gonzales had sustained as a result of seizures. Dr. Moore-Pickett testified that, during a particular visit, Gonzalez complained of headaches. Dr. Moore-Pickett believed these headaches were likely occurring due to a sub-dermal hematoma Gonzalez may have sustained after a car accident. Gonzalez was referred to a neurological surgeon. When Dr. Moore-Pickett next saw Gonzalez it was because of a pin coming out of his foot. Gonzalez’s family members also complained to her that he had been suffering from seizures that caused him to smack his lips and roll his hands. Dr. Moore-Pickett believed this type of seizure behavior to be atypical and once again felt she would need the help of a neurologist to decide the best course of action.
Dr. Moore-Pickett stated she did not initially report Gonzalez to the DMV most likely because she was not made aware he was driving. However, when Gonzalez was last seen by Dr. Moore-Pickett, in 2010, he admitted he had recently been involved in an accident after having a seizure behind the wheel of a vehicle. Dr. Moore-Pickett then explained to him that he should not drive until he was cleared by a physician to do so. She then reported Gonzalez to the DMV. Dr. Moore-Pickett testified that Gonzalez did not return to her as a patient. Court was then excused for afternoon break and was set to reconvene at 1:30pm.
April 6 – Afternoon
Amanda Zambor began questioning Officer Dakney who was called to the scene of the car accident on Covell Boulevard in Davis. Zambor displayed multiple photographs of the incident, including photos of the Chevy Impala and the light pole it hit, which was unhinged from its base. The photos showed the Impala facing the opposite direction of traffic and there were multiple photos of gauge marks on the pavement, which the officer said indicated the place of impact. On the rear bumper of the Impala, one can visibly see the imprint of a Toyota emblem and the imprint of the top half of a license plate.
There were also photos of a Jeep Wrangler, which the officer said was inspected one to two days later and it had blue license plate markings on its rear trailer hitch. This was apparently the second vehicle that the defendant’s vehicle hit, although it was not clarified at the time in the testimony.
The markings indicate that the Corolla hit the Impala in the rear before accelerating and pushing the Impala, which spun 180 degrees so it was facing opposing traffic.
The next witness was Justin Infante, an investigator with the Davis Police Department, who referred to the car in the photograph as a Chevy Malibu, not an Impala. According to Detective Infante, the driver’s side door was smashed into a tree and he heard the occupant of the vehicle moaning. The occupant’s driver’s license identified her as Ruth Morales and Infante testified that she lost consciousness as soon as she was taken out of the vehicle and had medical staff attending to her.
Following the afternoon recess, the people called witness Carlos Pacheco to the stand. Pacheco was questioned regarding an incident in Woodland in 2011 when he was driving on County Road 98 and noticed that the car in front of him showed no signs of stopping at an upcoming 4-way stop. Pacheco described the vehicle as being small, probably a Honda, and said it was zig-zagging. When Pacheco did not see the Honda’s brake lights go on, he began honking. The Honda continued to drive past the stop sign and hit a van, which was on the left side of the intersection and had the right of way.
Pacheco got out of his own vehicle and went to the Honda to see if the driver was okay. The driver initially did not respond and simply looked at Pacheco with a dazed look. When Pacheco asked the driver if he was on something, the driver finally spoke and said no, he had just fallen asleep. Pacheco also disclosed that his ex-girlfriend used to have seizures and that the driver’s reactions resembled her post-seizure reactions.
DDA Zambor then called the next witness, Alejandro Calderon, to describe an incident in 2010. Calderon was inside his mother-in-law’s home in Woodland when he heard a loud collision outside. When he went outside, he saw that his mother-in-law’s Nissan Pathfinder, which was parked on the side of the street, had been hit and the front bumper was torn off. Calderon did not see the other vehicle at first, believing it was a hit and run, but later noticed the other vehicle some ways down the road. This other vehicle had damage to its front bumper and passenger side. Calderon described the driver as seeming disoriented and stated that the driver didn’t seem to acknowledge the knocking on the window.
The final witness of the day was a Woodland officer, Randall Krantz, who was dispatched to the scene of this 2010 incident. Krantz spoke to the driver but, because the incident was five years ago, could not confidently remember what he looked like. According to Krantz, Gonzalez said he was going to McDonald’s and that he had taken his medication that morning. Gonzalez then told Krantz that he had pulled over because he felt ill as if he was going to have a seizure and blacked out. At this time, Gonzalez also told Krantz about a collision in 2004 when he fell asleep while driving. Krantz stated that he filled out a form explaining to the DMV why Gonzalez should have his driving status taken away and gave a copy to Gonzalez.
On August 30, 2011, Krantz was also dispatched to the previously-mentioned collision on County Road 98 in Woodland. He described the two cars in the collision as a green Honda Accord, registered to Armando Gonzalez, and a Toyota Sienna van. Krantz did not initially recognize Gonzalez from the incident in 2010, but realized he was the same person after looking at his driving record. However, when Gonzalez spoke to Krantz, he claimed that he had stopped at the stop sign and was hit by another vehicle and fell asleep. The van’s damage on the passenger side and the previous witness Pacheco’s testimony do not match up with Gonzalez’s claim. However, Gonzalez did tell Krantz about his seizures and said that he was on two medications.