By Audrey Sawyer
MODESTO, CA – A hearing was held this week here in Stanislaus County Superior Court for a man whom the judge called “decent,” but refused to dismiss or divert charges that the young man crashed into a tractor, resulting in loss of a life.
Misdemeanor charges claim that in July of 2021 the accused was heading to work in difficult weather conditions, according to Deputy Public Defender Jovana A. Torres, who argued there were not any headlights on the tractor, and the victim was not wearing a safety seat belt.
“When he (accused) first saw the tractor, he hit his brakes. When trying to avoid the hit, he still made contact with the tractor, which resulted in the tractor hitting the utility pole,” said the DPD.
Torres explained to the court that after the accused woke up after losing consciousness, his first instinct was to run to the victim and attempt to assist, trying to give the victim CPR. The victim did not have a pulse at this time, and Torres said, “There was no indication that the defendant had been using his phone (while driving), or that he had substances in his person.”
A request was made by the defense for judicial diversion, noting the accused has no previous criminal history and is 25 years old. Torres added the accused has obtained scholarships and was attending community college until having to drop out for financial reasons and now works in retail.
Torres added he has devoted himself to becoming a first responder. His license is valid and he has a letter from a deputy describing his character as “very humble.”
Judge Ruben Villalobos asked three questions, the first relating to the speed of which the accused was driving, to which the prosecution said there was physical proof the accused was driving 60 miles per hour, while the accused claimed 45 miles per hour.
Villalobos then referenced a witness that stated they could see the incident very clearly. At this, Torres argued the time of the crash was around 4:30 a.m., and that the witness arrived after the accident had occurred.
The judge said he was concerned with the fact there was a speeding conviction four days afterwards against the accused.
The prosecution, in response to the defense allegations about there being no headlights on the tractor was, “That is not my understanding of the evidence of the police report. The officer came onto the scene and saw there was a LED light that was on. I’m unsure where the allegation that the tractor had no lights came from but (the prosecution) disputes it as inaccurate to claim there were no lights.”
The prosecution’s concern was the proximity of the speeding ticket, arguing: “Four days after this instance, the defendant resolved a speeding situation. Despite this being fresh in his mind, he knowingly sped, disputing the facts that the speeding led to death or the loss of life. It should weigh heavily on the defendant that he had just been convicted of a speeding violation, and why we believe he is unfit for judicial diversion.”
DPD Torres replied, “He ended up going back into the fields, risking his life…it was a last minute interaction before he was able to get out of the road. Once he got out of the car and was able to regain consciousness, he himself had injuries, did what he could, and tried to provide aid for the victim.”
On multiple instances, the defense claimed the road had been a dirt road (using dirt as a reason for it being difficult to see), but the prosecution said the road was actually asphalt, and argued the accused has said he drives that particular road often.
“He knew tractors came from it, the speedometer disagrees with the 45 miles per hour (defense claim), and none of the information given has been consistent with the facts. Given the defendant’s speeding history…he is not a good candidate for judicial diversion,” the prosecution maintained.
Judge Villalobos praised the accused, stating he “did everything that he could and should do in the aftermath of a motor vehicle collision to attempt to mitigate the harm….(he) is a good human being, a good decent young man trying to make a good life for himself reflected in the character references. There seems to be some trial issues with speed, as related to status of the tractor, existence of a seatbelt.. All of these seem appropriate to consider.”
Despite the praise, Villalobos once again noted concern with the accused’s previous speeding conviction, and denied the motion for judicial diversion.
The judge said, “Nothing in those comments are saying that this is a bad human being or that this is a bad case. It has to do specifically with the use of discretion to grant diversion, therefore the motion is denied.”