WOODLAND — A Yolo Superior Court judge concluded Wednesday there is sufficient evidence for a Woodland man to stand trial on second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter charges stemming from a fatal accident in Davis earlier this year.
Armando Arias Gonzalez Jr. “chose to get behind the wheel of a car that day” despite a history of epileptic seizures that prosecutors say led to several other car accidents over the past 12 years, Judge Paul Richardson said in ruling. He said Gonzalez allegedly demonstrated the implied malice required for the murder charge to stand.
“It was, in a sense, a form of Russian roulette,” Richardson added, citing testimony from Gonzalez’s own doctor who said the defendant’s medical condition could be “inconsistent.”
The judge also ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that Gonzalez committed felony hit-and-run causing death following the Feb. 1 crash on East Covell Boulevard that killed 85-year-old Darlene Morales of Vacaville, who had been in town visiting her husband at a local skilled-nursing facility.
Although Gonzalez’s vehicle left the collision scene on East Covell near Baywood Lane before rear-ending a second vehicle at Pole Line Road, Richardson said it’s possible that Gonzalez did not consciously flee the area, but rather was still in the throes of a seizure that caused his foot to remain on the gas pedal.
Gonzalez, 39, is due back in court Aug. 14 for arraignment on the remaining charges. He is being held without bail at the Yolo County Jail.
According to testimony offered during Gonzalez’s three-day preliminary hearing, the defendant took medication to control his epilepsy but continued to suffer occasional seizures. His neurologist, Dr. Eric Hassid, noted that many of the seizures seemed to be triggered by stress.
On the day of the crash, Gonzalez reportedly left work at Swift Dodge early after complaining of a headache and a stomachache, but not before co-workers observed Gonzalez “blank out” for roughly 15 minutes during which he did not respond to conversation or other stimulation.
As he drove westbound on Covell, Gonzalez — who also had not slept well the night before — closed his eyes for two to three minutes, said an officer who interviewed him at the crash scene. It was at that point that Gonzalez’s Toyota Corolla rear-ended Morales’ Chevy Impala at an estimated 70-plus mph, causing it to spin around, shear off a metal light pole at its base and strike a tree with enough force to push the driver’s side of the car into the center console, police testified.
Morales died later that day at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
Gonzalez’s attorney, Clemente Jimenez, called the fatal crash a “tragic incident” that occurred despite Gonzalez’s extensive efforts to manage his epilepsy.
“There was nothing my client could have done to know that this would be the end result,” Jimenez said Wednesday while arguing for the charges to be dismissed. Deemed a low driving risk by his doctor, “there was no reason to believe that when he got into the car that he would pose any greater risk” than other drivers on the road.
Prosecutor Amanda Zambor disagreed, noting Gonzalez’s four prior crashes dating back to 2002 as well as his history of “breakthrough” seizures — ones that surfaced even when he regularly took his medication.
“It isn’t a question of if, it’s a question of when,” Zambor said. She also argued that Gonzalez should have recognized the “blanking out” episode at work as a sign of an oncoming seizure, but still chose to drive “and endanger other people.”
In addition to the murder and vehicular manslaughter charges, Richardson found sufficient evidence for two counts of perjury, which prosecutors allege stem from Gonzalez’s claims on DMV license renewal forms that he did not have a medical condition that affected his driving and that he had not had a prior license suspension, when, in fact, he had.
— Reach Lauren Keene at email@example.com or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene