WOODLAND — Speed, impairment and improper restraints all were blamed Monday for a horrific rollover crash that killed a 10-year-old girl and tossed two other children from the car just days before Thanksgiving 2009.
The driver in that crash, 26-year-old Arnold Barraza of Woodland, was ordered to stand trial on felony charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and child endangerment following a preliminary hearing in Yolo Superior Court.
Judge Stephen Mock said there was sufficient evidence to support the charges, including witness accounts that had Barraza drinking a 40-ounce malt liquor and driving an estimated 85 mph prior to the Nov. 23, 2009, crash on County Road 22E east of Woodland.
“I knew he was going to crash,” testified John Laughlin, an off-duty California Department of Fish and game lieutenant who passed Barraza’s rented Mazda 3 seconds before the 1:15 p.m. collision.
Laughlin told Deputy District Attorney Chris Bulkeley he saw the black Mazda come over a rise in the road so fast “the tires were off the ground.” As the two vehicles approached one another, the Mazda drifted toward the center of the road, then veered back to the right.
The rest Laughlin saw through his side mirror as he pulled off the road: the westbound Mazda overcorrecting to the left, then back to the right before striking a yellow iron post and going airborne.
“It flipped, I would estimate, five to six times,” Laughlin said.
A crash-scene investigation by the California Highway Patrol confirmed the car rolled six times before coming to rest in a field north of the county road.
As it tumbled, Barraza, his 1-year-old son Arnold Barraza Jr., and 4-year-old Elise Martinez-Gonzalez, the daughter of Barraza’s girlfriend Cirena Martinez, were thrown from the car. They and Martinez were injured, but survived.
Destiny Martinez-Gonzalez was not so lucky. The 10-year-old Woodland girl died of head and neck trauma while strapped into the rear right seat.
Cirena Martinez told the CHP that she, Barraza and the children were returning to Woodland from Tulare, where they had picked up Barraza’s son, Officer Joelle McChesey testified. As they passed through Sacramento, Barraza allegedly consumed a “211” — a 40-ounce Steel Reserve malt liquor.
A California Department of Justice analysis of blood from Barraza one hour and 40 minutes after the crash put his blood-alcohol content at .02, meaning it could have been as high as .05 at the time of the accident, officers said.
The blood sample also showed the presence of methamphetamine, morphine and marijuana, with the alcohol and marijuana combination leaving Barraza “seriously impaired,” said Bruce Naliboff, a Yolo County district attorney’s investigator who presented the DOJ findings.
None of the children had been properly restrained inside the car, according to McChesney. She said the seat belt positions in the wrecked vehicle showed Elise wore a lap belt but no shoulder harness while seated in her booster seat, while the baby’s car seat lacked a buckle for its five-point harness.
Destiny, meanwhile, had tucked the shoulder harness of her seat belt under her right arm, possibly due to discomfort.
Barraza’s attorney, Michael Ross, elicited testimony from McChesney that it was Martinez who had incorrectly put the two younger children in their child seats, while Destiny buckled herself in. But under a second round of questioning by Bulkeley, McChesney added that as the driver, Barraza was responsible for ensuring his passengers were properly restrained.
Authorities initially arrested Martinez on child-endangerment charges, but the District Attorney’s Office ended up not pursuing the case.
Barraza, meanwhile, also faces charges of driving on a suspended license, possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and driving without proof of vehicle insurance.
He is due back in court April 5 for arraignment.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8048.