Analysis: DMV Docs Show Gonzalez Disclosed Condition and Was Cleared to Drive

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On May 8, Armando Gonzalez, 41 years old of Woodland, was sentenced to 18 years to life for his role in a fatal accident after a Yolo County jury found Mr. Gonzalez guilty on April 10, 2015, of second degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter for the fatal accident that led to the death of an 85-year-old lady. The jury also convicted Mr. Gonzalez of two counts of perjury for lying to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

On February 4, 2014, according to the District Attorney, Mr. Gonzalez left work after having two seizures earlier that morning. Just after 2:00 p.m., Mr. Gonzalez, while having a seizure and speeding 80 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone, drove directly into the vehicle driven by Darlene Morales.

The family of Mr. Gonzalez disputes the DA’s interpretation of the case and argues that Mr. Gonzalez’s private attorney failed to bring forward key facts and raise key legal points in his defense.

Mr. Gonzalez’s wife, Isabel Levario, showed the Vanguard documents submitted to the DMV that show that both the DMV and his doctor knew of his condition and he had medical approval to drive.

Ms. Levario called it “a tragic accident.” But she pointed out, “The DMV kept reinstating his license and his epilepsy had been controlled for more than a year prior to the accident.”

The DA’s case that Mr. Gonzalez knew he was a danger and a risk for driving is mitigated by the fact that the DMV and the doctor cleared him to drive. The perjury convictions stemmed from the belief that Mr. Gonzalez falsified DMV forms, either by withholding or minimizing information about his epilepsy.

Based on what we see, there is no evidence that Mr. Gonzalez did that.

A form signed by Armando Gonzalez on August 11, 2010, showed that he acknowledged suffering “seizure, convulsions, or epilepsy,” acknowledged a major illness or operation in the last five years, and acknowledged taking medications – and he listed his medications and two operations.

He authorized the Institute of Restorative Health to release his medical information.

Gonzalez-DMV-1

His doctor filled out the medical evaluation, which indicated that Mr. Gonzalez suffered from epilepsy. It stated Mr. Gonzalez had been his patient for six years, that he had been on controlled medication and the condition had been under control for three months.

It stated Mr. Gonzalez was adhering to his medical regimen. The form asks, “In your opinion, does your patient’s medical condition affect safe driving?” “No,” was the doctor’s answer, as long as he continues taking his medicine. The doctor, when asked if he advised against driving, responded, “Up to now, yes. Not now.” He added, “I feel that he is a low driving risk.”

Gonzalez-DMV-2

That form was signed by Dr. Eric Hassid. Ms. Levario complained that the DA in the case “undermined the expertise of my husband’s neurologist. Dr. Eric Hassid testified and later in their closing statement the DA said he knew nothing, even though he has 28 years of experience.”

Gonzalez-DMV-3

Certainly, if Dr. Hassid had been Mr. Gonzalez’s doctor for six years and was well aware of his condition, should he bear some responsibility for stating that he felt that the condition would not affect safe driving and that Mr. Gonzalez was a low driving risk?

A year later on August 31, 2011, Mr. Gonzalez completed the same form for the DMV.

Gonzalez-DMV-4

Once again, Dr. Hassid, in August 2011, stated that his patient’s condition had been under control for the last seven to eight months. He said his medication had been the same for one to two years, and that he does not see the medication condition as currently affecting safe driving.

Gonzalez-DMV-5 Gonzalez-DMV-6

 

Ms. Levario told the Vanguard that her husband had been symptom-free for over a year. Despite having clearance to drive, she said that “it wasn’t my husband’s regular practice to drive on a daily basis. He drove that day because I was feeling extra tired since I had only 12 days left till my due date.”

On the day in question, she said that her husband called her to let her know that he was allowed to go home early because of the lack of cars to work on. She said that he sounded fine when he called.

Her husband’s boss testified that Mr. Gonzalez had had a seizure and blacked out. But Ms. Levario said, if her husband had blacked out, why did the employers not call her? She was listed as the emergency contact.

She said, “This is a condition that causes unconsciousness and if not made aware he would not have known he just had a seizure.”

In her view, the DA created a wonderful story, “but that is all it is…a story. We are telling the truth! They judged him on the facts of a medical condition they knew little about. It took two hours for the jury to deliberate and come to a guilty verdict without truly understanding his medical condition. This is a medical condition that takes years to understand through testing and research. Medical doctors still have questions.”

The Vanguard covered the case during trial. The court watch interns agreed that there were several key points that the defense attorney failed to raise. Moreover, the defense lacked the resources to bring in medical experts other than Dr. Hassid.

As the Vanguard wrote earlier, the case for gross negligence in this situation seems relatively reasonable. As the court notes, “Gross negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment.”

The person acts “in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury” and “a reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk.” The instructions to the jury continued, “In other words, a person acts with gross negligence when the way he or she acts is so different from how an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation that his or her act amounts to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of that act.”

Second degree murder is defined “as an intentional killing that was not premeditated.”

Under California law the prosecutor has to show the conduct reflects an “abandoned and malignant heart.” “Implied malice may arise if the defendant meant to create the circumstances that resulted in the killing of another person. When a criminal case lacks malice, the prosecutor will likely need to pursue manslaughter charges instead of murder charges.”

“He had no implied malice he was just trying to come home to his pregnant wife,” Ms. Levario told the Vanguard. “His epilepsy had been controlled for about a year and a half. He did all he could: eat healthy, exercise, sleep well, every six months visited with his neurologist, consistently take his medication.”

In our view, a life sentence and a second degree murder charge seem inappropriate, given that both the DMV and Mr. Gonzalez’s personal doctor – whom he saw every six months – had cleared him to drive.

DDA Amber Zambor argued, “(It) was not a question of if the defendant was going to kill someone, it was a matter of when he killed somebody.” The question I think that needs to be answered is how both the DMV and Dr. Eric Hassid allowed such a person to drive their vehicle in the first place.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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19 thoughts on “Analysis: DMV Docs Show Gonzalez Disclosed Condition and Was Cleared to Drive”

  1. Tia Will

    The question I think that needs to be answered is how both the DMV and Dr. Eric Hassid allowed such a person to drive their vehicle in the first place.”

    As a doctor, albeit one without expert knowledge of the full range of seizure activities and their management, I would like to make the following observations. There is a very broad range of behaviors and presence or absence of awareness that are included in the word “seizure”. These may vary from a very brief ( as in a few seconds) lapse of attention, called an absence seizure,  all the way up to the obvious loss of consciousness, and uncontrolled muscle spasms with the jerking of arms and legs and loss of bladder and bowel control that mark the grand mal seizure that is commonly thought of as “seizure activity”.

    The types of seizures experienced by an individual can be so slight that they themselves are unaware of them but may be observed by a family member or coworker as “zoning out” or “blacking out”. If the patient is not informed of the event, they may well be unaware of it and therefore incapable of reporting it. It would look to them as though they were “well controlled” even while potentially having multiple very brief episodes. If they then, in all honesty, did not report that of which they were unaware, neither their doctor, nor the DMV would have anyway of knowing that the lapses of consciousness were occurring.

    The assumption that was being portrayed by the prosecution is that Mr. Gonzalez had to have been aware of his current ongoing seizure activity and thus was lying and deliberately putting the public at risk through his continuing to drive in what he knew to be a dangerous situation. While I of course, cannot make any statement whatsoever about Mr. Gonzalez’ actual awareness of his condition, what I can state from direct professional experience is that there are patients whose seizure activity is so brief in duration that they are frequently unaware that they have had a seizure unless it is brought to their attention to them by an outside observer. If this situation was not at least brought up to the jurors as a consideration, then they were not presented with the possibility of a reasonable doubt about the intent and responsibility of Mr. Gonzalez for his actions.

    1. Adrian Arias Gonzalez

      As a direct professional with experience, would it be suffice to say that if you were treating a patient for years, you would have an idea as to what type of seizures the patient experiences, especially since he has been dealing with seizures since he was a young child.

       

      1. Tia Will

        Adrian

        Would one think so, but that still begs the question of how to assess not the type, but the frequency of the seizures. This issue is not necessarily as black and white as it may seem.

         

  2. zaqzaq

    The family should sue Dr Hassad for malpractice for his poor diagnosis and for signing the DMV form.  Didn’t all of the other doctors testify the he should not have been driving.   Just another example of the harm caused by our medical community.  Dr Hassad should be thankful that he is not in Baltimore.  Mosby could charge him with a crime for being wrong just like the legal theory used to charge officers Nero and Miller.

      1. zaqzaq

        David,

        Why wouldn’t a doctor who told the convicted man that it was safe to drive and the patient relies upon that medical diagnosis and then has a medical episode contrary to the doctor’s diagnosis, kills a person and then gets convicted because he was following his doctor’s advise which was why he was driving in the first place not be able to sue the doctor?  In theory he is now looking at a lengthy prison term for following his doctor’s advise according to the information you provided in this article.  Why wouldn’t Gonzalez be able to sue the doctor for negligence in the diagnosis which resulted in the injury of a prison sentence?

        1. Tia Will

          zaqzaq

          I think that the bigger question is why are we as a society so prone to want to address every issue with a law suit ? We have had one tragedy in the death of Ms. Morales. Now we are having a second tragedy in the loss of a family support of a pregnant woman and her child ?  And we are hearing people calling for a law suit against the doctor involved without having any idea whether or not he was making a sound judgement based on the information presented to him.

          Why not arrive at a solution that minimizes harm and preserves families and provides as much restoration as is possible under these horrible circumstances. A monetary award will not cover the emotional harm to the Morales family. Incarcerating Mr Gonzalez will not make their family whole, but will likely destroy his family.

          Why not consider a solution that prevents him from ever driving again, while still allowing him to work and do some community service to compensate as much as possible for the harm that his apparent lack of judgement has done ?

          Why do we always want to take the most punitive harmful course possible ?  Whom does it satisfy or help to heap more harm on top of so much preventable pain ?

           

        2. zaqzaq

          Tida,

          Let’s just treat the doctors like we treat cops.  They make a mistake and we charge them with a crime.  Use the Mosby logic.  Oh, I forgot you are a doctor and thus cannot be trusted to hold other doctors accountable for their mistakes.  Call it the white wall of silence.  Fair is fair.

    1. Adrian Arias Gonzalez

      That is the least of our concerns right now.  Our main focus is getting the court system to accept the appeal. As stated before, we could not afford additional doctor’s testimonies and had to rely on Dr. Hassid’s testimony.  Dr. Hassid had a record of faulty paperwork keeping, relevant when the subpoenas were issued for my brother’s medical records.   All anyone would have to do would be to get court transcripts to find all the information regarding that. I will not speak further on that due to nature of the discussion at the moment. Bottom Line: Doctor Hassid did know about Armando’s conditions, and it was the main reason Armando kept going back to him.  6 years is more than enough time to diagnose his condition.  I was there when he was asked point blank by me if he thought Armando was ok to drive even after all the previous accidents, and he said yes, he was fine. His lie that he was never aware of his previous accidents  is BS.

  3. Davis Progressive

    there is a point that is not raised enough here.  first of all, it seems like the defense was ineffective, which is a problem.  but the second problem is you have a complex medical condition and a complex legal distinction between second degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter.  you have a jury that deliberates on this highly complex and really unprecedented legal area for two hours.  i’m sorry this guy got a life sentence and you have a case that is likely to be heard on appeal if not overturned and a jury that frankly didn’t spend enough time deliberating.  this case really exemplifies exactly what is wrong with the jury system.

    1. zaqzaq

      DP,

      If the jury that sat through the evidence believed that Mr. Gonzales lied or withheld information from DMV and his doctors, had a history of causing motor vehicle collisions, was aware that one or all of the collisions resulted from a seizure and still drove.  Further the jury believes that he was aware that he had a seizure earlier that day and still drove later that day and that he was aware that he could have another seizure and still drove home.  If that was clear to all of them and then the decide that the evidence supports  the legal definition why to they have to take more time?  Is there a set or mandated time that a jury has to take to decide any particular case?  How long should they have taken in this case to support their verdict?  It sounds like you disagree with their conclusion and now are lashing out on the amount of time they took to reach their decision.  How long were they involved in the case from start to finish?  Not all cases require rocket scientists to decide.  Are you saying that the defense attorney was incompetent or that his argument did not resonate with this jury when you say he was ineffective?

      1. Davis Progressive

        my problem is both the process and the decision.  i have had many cases where the jury has sided against me in court – but i know they pondered it, weighed all the evidence and reasonable people disagreed.

        not every case needs to a rocket scientist to decide, but this one does.  there are complicated medical issues that i’m not convinced they got to hear a full accounting of.  there are complicated legal issues that will have to be resolved by the appellate courts.  and then there is a complicated question of culpability here.  i’m alarmed they could take two hours to weigh through them.  that jury in the burglary case took over a day and you have a life case that takes two hours.  i’m not alright with that.

    1. Adrian Arias Gonzalez

      Unfortunately, we could only afford the attorney.  And if you have any knowledge of trial attorneys, especially ones that deal with murder charges, they aren’t cheap, and it kills us that we couldn’t provide more for our case.

      1. Davis Progressive

        we have an excellent public defender’s office here.  they have a budget for experts and investigations.  and they are used to dealing with the local judges and da’s.  your brother would have been in far shape being represented by a public defender.

  4. tj

    It certainly seems the private defense attorney should be sued.  Some major oversights occurred.

    That said, our public defenders office isn’t very good either.  A roll of the dice whether it would have performed better.

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