By Michael McCutcheon & Vaiva Utaraite
WOODLAND, CA – During a pretrial for felony driving under the influence that resulted in injuries, Judge Peter M. Williams found testimony from one of two people in the involved vehicle more believable than that of other witnesses—meaning the case would probably go to trial for the other occupant, even though he was found in the passenger, not driver’s, seat by police.
Williams decided to pursue the case with the accused despite bodycam footage that documented the testimonies of two unidentified witnesses taken from the scene of the crime.
The court was informed that, in Oct. 2022, two young people, both 19 years old, were going for a 3 a.m. drive following a night of partying and drinking. At some point during the drive, their vehicle, a white F150, struck the median and collided into a wall.
One occupant exited the vehicle through the driver’s side window while the accused remained inside until he could be rescued by police officers. He was in the passenger seat when officers recovered him.
Both sustained minor injuries, though the accused was unconscious until assisted by police, and charged with felony DUI resulting in injuries and misdemeanor drug possession of cocaine.
However, other bodycam footage from an officer who did not testify in court depicted the officer’s interaction with two witnesses, both of whom stated that they saw the uncharged occupant driving.
Yet, the officer did not share this information with any others because, as stated by Deputy Public Defender (no first name provided) Gonzalez, it seemed pretty clear the witnesses did not want to become further involved in the case.
The two witnesses were never identified.
Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo argued the final positions of the two occupants changed “when the vehicle collided with the railing, due to the impact,” adding, “it’s very natural and normal when two individuals who are not wearing seatbelts to be shifted.”
PD Gonzalez stated, “This idea that they might have switched positions after the collision happened…I don’t buy it. She was a lot more able than he was,” noting the accused was unconscious while the uncharged occupant was able to exit the vehicle.
“I also don’t appreciate the fact that we clearly have a witness who saw that (the uncharged occupant) was the driver and there was not an officer who documents that,” said PD Gonzalez.
Judge Williams, however, disagreed, stating that he found the uncharged occupant’s testimony to be reliable and that the case will proceed pending a doctor’s evaluation of the accused’s competency to stand trial.
PD Gonzalez responded he believed the hearing to be prejudicial because two witnesses could provide, and already provided on bodycam footage, exculpatory testimony were never identified nor included in reports by police.