By Martimeano Villa
FRESNO – A civilian witness—after watching a dangerous scene unfold on the freeway—took the keys from what appeared to be a drunk driver and waited for law enforcement to arrive, according to testimony here last Thursday at Fresno County Superior Court in a preliminary hearing for defendant Omar Fernandez Sanchez.
Sanchez is being charged with a DUI (driving under the influence) after a Fresno police officer noted damage to Sanchez’ vehicle and his physical state as probable cause for arrest.
Sanchez’s defense charged the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights, claiming the officer had no probable cause for detainment, because the officer did not witness Sanchez driving under the influence.
According to the civilian witness, on July 26, 2019, at around 10 p.m., Sanchez was driving eastbound off State Route 180. While driving, the witness observed the interesting sight of a row of cars lining the freeway, all except for the fastest lane. They noted that the cars were driving at speeds between 20 to 30 miles per hour, on the freeway.
Driving at the proper speed limit, the witness drove around the row of cars and observed the vehicle of defendant Sanchez swerving side to side with considerable damage to the car. The right front tire was reported to have no rubber with only half of the rim remaining.
The witness rolled down their window to ask Sanchez to pull over. Sanchez and the witness both stopped on a ramp on Kings Canyon and Armstrong. Sanchez drove in front of the witness after the initial stop.
After approaching the vehicle, the witness noted how Sanchez asked to change his front tire. Noting the damage to the tire and rim, the witness refused and waited for Sanchez to exit the vehicle. The witness also noted the actions of the defendant: incomprehensible words and lack of balance, possibly signaling Sanchez being under the influence.
As a former respiratory therapist in the emergency room, the witness viewed the safety of Sanchez and possibly the lives of others to be in danger and proceeded to grab the keys from Sanchez’s vehicle. The witness did not note the odor of alcoholic beverages but felt Sanchez’s behavior indicated DUI, driving under the influence.
The officer at the scene arrived soon after initial contact was made between Sanchez and the witness. The officer reported receiving a dispatch of a possible DUI driver traveling eastbound off State Route 180, with alleged accounts of a flat tire with sparks.
Noting the condition of Sanchez’s vehicle, the officer assumed a collision occurred. Although the officer had no reason to make an arrest, the officer still activated steady red and blue lights that are known to only be used when a crime is suspected.
Judge Gary Orozco rejected the defense argument, noting that the witness was the one to initially stop Sanchez, and the officer’s questions led the officer to suspect Sanchez of being under the influence, leading to his subsequent detainment. Moreover, the officer did not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right.
The court ruled probable cause for the arrest, and there will be a future trial.
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