By Michael Apfel
WOODLAND, CA – In a preliminary hearing here in Yolo County Superior Court for a felony hit and run case leading to injury, the court denied the prosecution’s request to prevent the accused from driving while he is released on his own recognizance pending trial.
The prosecution had previously requested at an arraignment hearing that a release condition prohibit the accused from driving until a decision was reached in his case, but it was denied by the arraignment judge.
Deputy District Attorney Daniela Dunham brought up the request again upon discovering new information pertaining to the suspect’s driving.
“I have had conversations with the victim’s parents, including the victim’s attorney in this matter, who have raised at least two concerns to my office regarding two reports in the community of (the accused’s) driving,” the DDA said.
The prosecutor added, “I have one interview from the civil attorney, and one verbal report that was made to me. Both of them involve individuals in the community in Davis where (the accused) lives and resides and involves witnessing him driving at a high rate of speed within the neighborhood and also passing in front of other vehicles at a high-speed using the bike lane.
“There have been reports that there has been damage on (the accused’s) vehicle (that) indicates that there have potentially been other accidents. I have been made aware of these reports. I don’t have police reports regarding what these individuals have seen, but I do feel it’s necessary at least for the court to know and to be advised that there is significant concern that the defendant is still driving.”
Previous back-and-forth between the prosecution and defense highlighted the accused’s health conditions, which heightened the consequences of the prosecution’s request.
“He does have significant health issues, including prostate cancer and heart conditions,” said defense attorney Steven Sabbadini. “He walks with a cane. He has multiple appointments with doctors and things of that nature.”
The DDA said she was aware of the seriousness of limiting the accused’s ability to drive, but she believed it was appropriate in the interest of public safety, adding, “I understand that the defendant has certain medical conditions, That’s of concern to the People too, and on that basis, I’m asking the court to reconsider.”
Defense Counsel Sabbadini was quick to push back on this issue, challenging the credibility of the interviews provided by the prosecution, one of which included an anonymous source.
“Your Honor, this was argued and denied by the arraignment judge, and there is apparently some new information, so we’ll consider that,” said Sabbadini. “One is an anonymous source, which I don’t give any credibility to if somebody is not willing to give their name to it. The other is an interview apparently done by the victim’s attorney, and it does not appear to be a signed statement.”
Sabbadini noted there were factual discrepancies in the interviews further supporting his stance against the prosecution’s request.
“[The reports] also have a lot of things in it that are not correct, observations, like saying (the accused) has a new white vehicle, which he doesn’t have, things of that nature. (The witness) talks about driving around with a vehicle that has damage on it. That’s not an indication of who caused the damage. That’s speculative.”
The accused’s presumed innocence and previous clean driving record was referred to, further bolstering the defense’s argument.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” said the defense. “He’s a 77-year-old man. He has no priors whatsoever on his record, clean DMV, fully insured and licensed. At the time of this matter, he had a million-liability policy, (and) there are no accidents on his license. He’s just perfectly clean except in this case. He’s lived in Davis 33 years, he’s married, owns his own home, a combat veteran, and was honorably discharged.”
On a final note, the defense emphasized the nature of the alleged crime was leaving the scene, not the severity of the accident.
“This case is not about hitting, it’s about running, not giving the appropriate, required information under the vehicle code,” said the defense attorney. “I can go into a lot of detail into who said what. We can argue that all day. The bottom line is that he needs his license at this point.
“If he gets convicted of it, he will lose his license for at least a year, and I’d ask the court not to consider the anonymous allegations and consider his history of no prior vehicular accidents, tickets, or anything of that nature.”
The prosecution argued. “I understand that the crime is from leaving the scene, but we can’t ignore that there has been significant damage done in this case. I think there is a safety concern here. I feel it’s my responsibility to make the court aware of this and to speak on behalf of the victim.”
After some consideration, Judge Stephen Mock denied the prosecution’s request, finding there was not sufficient evidence that would justify the OR condition preventing the accused from driving. Further court dates were scheduled in the upcoming weeks, though the defense hoped a resolution could be reached in the near future.