By Esmeralda Mendoza
The jury trial of Angelina Marie Benavidez, who is facing charges for driving under the influence on July 3, 2017, resumed as two witnesses were asked to give their testimony about that night. The first witness was Ms. Benavidez’ husband and he testified that he was the driver. However, the second witness, Officer Guillermo Hernandez, had reason to believe that the husband was on the passenger’s side at the time of the accident.
The defendant’s attorney, David R. Wiksell, called the first witness up to testify. The husband explained that the couple had been drinking at a bar in Woodland, CA, and then drove their car back home with no problems. Once they were home, Ms. Benavidez received a cut on the forehead with a glass, the cause of the cut being unclear, and the couple decided to go to the hospital.
The witness explained that he hopped into the driver’s seat and Ms. Benavidez, who now had a large bloody wound, went to the passenger’s side.
Although he was not speeding, he panicked and drove their Honda into a small ditch and then a metal fence. The couple walked a couple blocks looking for help until they found a PG&E employee in his truck who was able to call for help. Eventually, emergency response units arrived and took Ms. Benavidez to the hospital.
Mr. Wiksell proceeded to show the jury and the witness more than 20 pictures of Ms. Benavidez, her husband, and the vehicle after the accident. The husband explained that the blood that was on his shirt and on the driver’s side of the car was not his, it was his wife’s. He came in contact with his wife before they left the house and he trailed some of her blood with him when he got on the driver’s side.
Next, Ms. Coral Walker, representing the People, proceeded to call Officer Guillermo Hernandez to the stand, who was the first officer to arrive the night of the accident. Officer Hernandez has worked with the California Highway Patrol for more than 20 years and has plenty of experience dealing with drunk drivers and people involved in car accidents.
He illustrated that when he got to the scene, he saw Ms. Benavidez sitting in the PG&E truck. She seemed very disoriented, and her husband was by her side caring for her. Next, he began to question the husband, who quickly admitted, after failing a field sobriety test, that he was driving drunk.
Officer Hernandez arrested the husband and, once they arrived at the police station, he began taking pictures of the husband’s upper body. In these pictures, it is apparent that he had blood on his tank top, and scratches on his neck and chest. The officer considered the scratches seat belt marks, however, he explained that the marks were from sitting in the passenger’s seat because they were of the right side of the neck and chest area.
In light of this, the husband explained that maybe he was not the driver, but never explicitly confessed that his wife was driving. The officer released the husband and continued his investigation at the hospital where Ms. Benavidez was located.
Officer Guillermo placed Ms. Benavidez under arrest after a nurse performed a chemical blood draw.
The trial took another unexpected turn when Mr. Wiksell questioned the witness, who explained that he did not note in any of his records that the husband confessed that he might not have been driving. Although this is an important detail in the investigation, the witness explained that he could have forgotten to include it in his report.
The second error in the officer’s report is that he did not write whether or not he had moved the driver’s side seat belt during his investigation. This information could have been vital to the trial because it is unclear if the seat belt was broken before or after the crash.