By Leila Katibah
SANTA BARBARA, CA – The prosecution here in Santa Barbara County Superior Court argued last Friday it was a case of a car driven by a drunk driver versus a motor scooter—and the driver of the scooter died.
“There’s no argument that I do have a strong suspicion that the felonies alleged in the criminal complaint were committed by Mr. Gonzalez. I will hold him to answer as charged,” ruled Judge Pauline Maxwell here in a preliminary hearing.
The accident occurred on Nov. 27, 2021, at 1:55pm, when the accused allegedly was driving his Jeep Patriot while under the influence of alcohol, and rear ended a motor scooter, resulting in the death of its driver. Gonzalez has remained in custody since then.
The first witness called to the stand, April Beltran, is an investigative officer working with the district attorney’s office. She was questioned about the blood sample retrieved from the accused to test his blood alcohol level in addition to the surveillance footage of the accident.
A local roofing business had surveillance footage of the accident and reported it to the Santa Barbara Police Dept. Beltran described the two-minute-long video, highlighting how “the suspect’s vehicle ran through a stop sign at that location.”
The next witness, Officer Christina Ortega, works in patrol and a specialty assignment regarding drunk drivers. After being asked why she went to the scene of the incident, she said she was at “an injury traffic collision where one of the drivers was possibly bleeding out.”
Officer Ortega recalled joining the accused in the ambulance, but because she had limited Spanish-speaking ability, a parking enforcement officer acted as a translator.
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Mossembekker asked if she observed any visible signs of intoxication, to which Officer Ortega responded, “Even though I was wearing a surgical mask, I could smell an intoxicated odor coming from his person.”
Officer Ortega said she did not conduct a sobriety test because Gonzalez was in a gurney, then transported to Cottage Hospital for a CT scan. She reported that a voluntary blood sample was taken, although the accused was not under arrest at that point in the hospital.
The third witness, Officer Edward Kasper, is a Santa Barbara police officer and traffic collision investigator, and described seeing the victim “face down, with his vehicle further south across the intersection collided into another parked vehicle,” totaling four vehicles involved in the collision.
When he arrived, the first thing Officer Kasper said he did was “tend to the victims, so checking for signs of life. At that time, I could not find a pulse, so I started yelling out to my partners to stop any kind of traffic, any movement in that scene to keep all the evidence where it was and start talking to anyone that witnessed (the accident).”
Officer Kasper also noted seeing debris from the vehicle, a damaged helmet, and clumps of blood and hair belonging to the victim “scattered throughout a prominent roadway.”
He also said he saw a parked Dodge Ram with major damage pushed approximately 35 feet from its original parking position, coupled with a fourth vehicle that took a collision from the victim’s scooter upon being rear-ended.
He continued to describe the victim’s vehicle “with two wheels in the front, one in the back,” while noting “due to the fact there were gouge marks right next to that tire friction mark in the asphalt…it’s my opinion that the scooter was depressed so much from the collision that it left the gouge mark in the roadway.”
The investigative officer also noted that prior to the collision, after an interview with Sport Cycle Pacific, the maintenance company used by the victim, said the vehicle “was in excellent condition.”
While being asked about the surveillance footage that was shown during the preliminary hearing, the first thing he noticed was “the Jeep Patriot traveling on the wrong side of the roadway,” and running through a stop sign at approximately 45 miles per hour.
During the cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Mindi Boulet asked Officer Kasper whether he talked to the witnesses at the scene.
He said he recalled directing other officers to do that, and does not recall witness statements being taken, adding there were people gathered to see what happened, “and it was frustrating and really rude because they were taking photographs and I was telling them to stop doing that out of respect to [the victim],” concluded Officer Kasper.
After a three-hour preliminary hearing, Judge Pauline Maxwell concluded, “Thank you very much for your time. Mr Gonzalez, bail will remain as set. I know this is a difficult situation. It’s a very sad situation,” and she set the arraignment for Nov. 3.