By Jamie Moddelmog
The preliminary hearing of Steven Hendrix resumed Thursday in Department 13, Judge Paul Richardson presiding. The day began with the issue of defendant Steven Hendrix’s prior domestic violence conviction, and whether it should be given judicial notice.
Deputy District Attorney David Robbins stated that it should be given judicial notice, because it points to his state of mind at the time of the accident. Robbins argued that, because the defendant was sentenced on February 19, 2016, only five days before the accident, he might have been angry, especially considering that with him in the car was his girlfriend who testified against him in the domestic violence trial. Robbins claimed the Hendrix might have been “taking out his anger” by driving too fast or erratically.
Robbins stated that he based the theory on the timing of the incident, five days after the conviction, as well as Hendrix’s general abusive relationships.
Judge Richardson told Robbins that he believed it speculative to say that the behavior of Mr. Hendrix (driving recklessly) was indicative of “malice aforethought,” but he did take judicial notice of the fact that that Hendrix was out on bail, awaiting sentencing.
The first witness called was “BC,” a Davis resident who was riding his bicycle along Second Street when the crash occurred. BC stated he was riding westbound on Second St., going to his gym, when he was passed very closely on the left by a large red vehicle traveling at a “high rate of speed” just as he was approaching the Pena Drive intersection. He claimed that the vehicle went into the bike lane, dangerously close to him and he felt a rush of wind as well as a rush of adrenaline, thinking that he had almost been killed.
He estimated the vehicle was traveling around 70 miles per hour. He also said that he had experience gauging speeds, as a recreational motorcycle racer.
BC claimed that most cars go slightly faster than the speed limit on Second, usually around 50 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone.
He said he was very scared because he had “almost been killed” on Second Street six years earlier, when he was traveling westbound on his motorcycle and a car turning onto Second St. did not notice him and pulled out in front of him. He crashed into the side of the car, flew off his motorcycle, and landed on another adjacent car.
Because of that incident, the passing of the red vehicle stuck out in his mind as significant, and frightened him even more.
As the car was speeding by in the bike lane next to him, BC claimed he heard some car on the street “sit on the horn” for around five seconds, and then he saw the red vehicle pass another vehicle on the right side of the road, staying in the bike lane through the Pena intersection.
BC said he then saw the red vehicle pass another car, still traveling at the same high rate of speed, on the left side, in the middle turn lane – what he referred to as the “suicide lane,” in the middle between east and westbound traffic on Second Street. As the red vehicle passed the second car on the left side, it went out of BC’s view. It was at that point that BC recalled hearing brakes and the “sound of an explosion” from ahead of him, and he saw dust and small debris flying in the air. He claimed that the car that the red vehicle had just passed before the collision did a three-point turn, getting out of the way of the accident, although he did not mention that fact when questioned at the scene.
He said that the (red) vehicle was not moving jerkily and both of the cars that were passed were passed fairly smoothly.
As for the conditions on the road, BC claimed that there was not much of a glare and there was no construction happening.
He continued to ride his bike to the crash site at Second and Cantrill Drive, the next intersection after Pena. BC testified that he saw children sitting on the side of the street, with the red vehicle jutting out into the bike lane and the car that had been hit by the red vehicle in the eastbound lane, sideways. The front of the red vehicle had been smashed and the driver’s side of the hit vehicle was smashed as well.
He said that he saw the defendant in the road, trying to get to the woman in the hit vehicle, looking “very distraught and upset” and being restrained.
He claimed that people turning onto Second from Pena or Cantrill, such as the woman killed in the crash, often have a hard time spotting oncoming traffic in the main lane traveling westbound because of cars in the right-turn lane for each of the intersections. However, he said he did not see any car in the right-turn lane at the time of the incident. He also said that he believed the car turning onto Second from Cantrill, the one that was hit, was proceeding in a safe and normal manner.
The second witness called to testify was Detective Janell Bestpitch, with the Davis Police Department. On February 24, 2016, Det. Bestpitch was dispatched to the intersection of Second and Cantrill because of a fatal car accident. After visiting the scene, she went to go talk to the red car’s occupants, who were sent to the UC Davis Medical Center for treatment.
The first of the car’s occupants that Det. Bestpitch interviewed was “ES,” the 12-year-old niece of Hendrix’s girlfriend. Bestpitch testified that ES told her that she was not paying attention at the time of the collision and was looking at her phone, with ear buds in and with the window rolled down. The detective also claimed to have been told by ES that the car used to have brake problems, but those problems had recently been fixed.
According to Bestpitch, ES also said that the family was driving from the West Sacramento Library toward a shelter in Davis and that they had to be there by 5:45pm.
Next, Det. Bestpitch had interviewed “AS,” also 12 years old, who is the daughter of Hendrix’s girlfriend and cousin of ES. Bestpitch testified that AS told her that her chest, leg and foot hurt after the collision, but had stopped hurting by the time she was being interviewed. She also told her that she did not have her seat belt on, because she was unable to put it on.
Detective Bestpitch stated that she asked AS if drug use had occurred and she replied that she didn’t know. Bestpitch claimed she asked if AS knew what marijuana was, and AS also replied that she didn’t know.
After AS, Bestpitch went to question “WS,” sister of Hendrix’s girlfriend and mother of ES. She allegedly said her right side and right leg hurt. She told Bestpitch that they weren’t going to the homeless shelter, but they were driving to a “check-in” location for the local shelter and they had to be there by 5:45pm, and that if they didn’t arrive by 5:45, they couldn’t sleep there for the night.
Bestpitch claimed WS told her that her family had been at the shelter for several months.
WS also allegedly told Bestpitch that she had been wearing her seat belt at the time of the collision, but it had come unbuckled in the crash. She claimed to have checked to make sure that the children in the car had their seat belts buckled before going anywhere, and she said she knew all of the children in the car were buckled when leaving the West Sacramento Library.
Bestpitch testified that WS claimed to have “everything fixed” in the car, except for getting new tires.
WS allegedly told Bestpitch that she also had her ear buds in and was looking at her phone, so did not see the accident as it happened.
WS also allegedly mentioned that she was told by her sister that there was a car stopped in the middle of the road and that Hendrix was traveling at 60 miles per hour, too fast to stop in time and that that was what caused the collision.
This statement was contrary to testimony given by her sister the previous day, in which her sister stated that she did not know at what speed the car was traveling at all.
Det. Bestpitch claimed that she asked WS if she or anyone else in the car smoked marijuana and that WS replied that she does not smoke it and is unsure if her sister or Hendrix do.
WS allegedly described the defendant’s behavior after the crash, saying he felt really bad and had started walking over to the car with the victim inside, crying.
From all three of her interviews, Det. Bestpitch gathered that the defendant, Hendrix, was in the driver’s seat, his girlfriend was in the passenger seat, with her niece, ES, directly behind her, her daughter AS in the middle seat, her sister WS in the seat behind Hendrix, and her two sons, “IS” and “JS,” in the very back two seats.
Bestpitch claimed she attempted to interview JS, but that he did not want to talk to her, and did not look at her when she talked to him or gently touched him.
IS and his mom were transported to a different hospital than the other four members of the family and Det. Bestpitch was not sure which one.