WOODLAND — On the day he allegedly caused a pair of vehicle collisions — one of them fatal — on Davis’ East Covell Boulevard, Armando Arias Gonzalez Jr. “blanked out” for roughly 15 minutes, according to testimony offered last week in Yolo Superior Court.
Co-workers at Swift Dodge in South Davis told police that on several recent occasions, Gonzalez would tremble and “stare off and not respond to any conversation or any stimulus,” such as waving a hand in front of his face, Davis police Detective Nick Doane said.
On the morning of the Feb. 1 crashes, Gonzalez left his lubrication technician job early after complaining of both a stomachache and a headache, the latter ailment prompted him to close his eyes for several minutes as he traveled westbound on Covell toward Pole Line Road, another officer testified.
“During that two- to three-minute period he remembered feeling a bump, but couldn’t explain what the bump was,” said Davis police Officer Joshua Helton, who interviewed Gonzalez at the crash scene. There, Gonzalez told Helton he had suffered from epilepsy since age 3.
Both officers took the witness stand last week during the first two days Gonzalez’s preliminary hearing, a court proceeding in which a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence for a case to proceed to trial. Judge Paul Richardson is expected to render his decision when the hearing concludes later this week.
Investigators say that as Gonzalez drove westbound on Covell Boulevard near Baywood Lane, his Toyota Corolla rear-ended a Chevrolet sedan with such force that it forced the Chevy downward, leaving gouges in the roadway. The car then knocked down a light pole before wrapping around a tree, killing 85-year-old Darlene Morales of Vacaville, who had been visiting her husband in a local nursing facility.
From there, Gonzalez’s vehicle continued westbound and struck a second vehicle that was stopped at Pole Line Road, causing minor injuries to a woman and her 12-year-old daughter.
In addition to vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run causing death, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office has charged Gonzalez with second-degree murder, saying his history of prior crashes caused by epileptic seizures made him aware of the risks of driving with that condition.
Gonzalez, a 39-year-old Woodland resident, has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Clemente Jimenez, has called the charges “overzealous,” saying his client held a valid driver’s license and was taking medications to control his epilepsy at the time of the collisions.
Last week’s hearing included testimony from Gonzalez’s longtime neurologist, Dr. Eric Hassid, who noted that Gonzalez was diligent about taking his medications and living a healthy lifestyle but still would suffer occasional seizures that were triggered by stress — particularly if his medications were low and refills had not yet been delivered.
“I think the stress was a big factor, and that was taking a toll on him,” Hassid said.
According to prior statements made in court, Gonzalez and his wife had been expecting the birth of their first child in February, and while she often drove her husband to work, her doctor had advised her not to drive during the late stages of her pregnancy.
Questioned about the lengthy “blanking out” episodes reported by Gonzalez’s co-workers, Hassid said epileptic seizures typically last “seconds to minutes” but rarely, if ever, as long as 15 minutes.
Hassid also said while the episodes appeared to be more consistent with anxiety attacks than seizures, “you would not just make assumptions without further testing.”
Gonzalez’s history of vehicle crashes dates back to 2002, when he suffered a seizure at the wheel and struck three parked cars, according to testimony presented last week. Officers said Gonzalez was involved in two more accidents in 2010 and 2011 that resulted in license suspensions, though he was able to resume driving several months later.
However, prosecutors also are alleging Gonzalez committed two acts of perjury when he applied for license renewals with the DMV, checking boxes on forms that indicated he had no prior license suspensions nor a medical condition that could affect his driving.
Richardson is slated to hear further testimony in the case on Wednesday. In the meantime, Gonzalez is being held without bail at the Yolo County Jail.
— Reach Lauren Keene at email@example.com or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene