The surprise witness identified the defendant right away. “He sits in front of us at the Charger games,” said Sara Anderson. She had video and photographs of him at the game on the night of the fatal crash.
John Francis Sudac Jr. was accused of hitting a car on I-5 in Solana Beach, then fleeing while a woman lay dead on the pavement.
A smashed silver Nissan Altima abandoned at the scene was registered to Sudac, and investigators located him. But the other man in Sudac’s car was not identified, so Sudac’s defense attorney began building a case to raise reasonable doubt as to who was driving the Nissan at the time of the crash.
Anderson is not scary-looking, but she may have frightened Sudac when he saw her walk into the courtroom. It was more than two years after the crash when she entered the witness box. Anderson looked at Sudac, who was seated at the defense table, and said that she recognized him. “He has helped me and my mom take pictures of ourselves,” said Anderson, who likes to take a camera to Charger games. She and her mom are season ticketholders.
When the Bolts bested the Indianapolis Colts in a playoff game on Saturday night, January 3, 2009, Anderson panned the crowd with her camera.
The fans went to their feet at the end of the game. A photo showed the time on the scoreboard as 8:40 p.m. and the words “WE WIN!” One of the fans in the photo was Sudac. Anderson pointed him out. And standing next to Sudac was a man with a grin on his face looking straight at the camera. The man wore a black baseball cap. The cap looked just like the cap that investigators found in the smashed silver Nissan.
The Man Driving the Ford
There were five people in the 1998 Ford Explorer that was hit.
Vinicio Jimenez said he was driving from his home in Tijuana to visit relatives in Los Angeles. He borrowed the Explorer from his brother. Jimenez’s pregnant wife Yine was in the front passenger seat, and their five-year-old daughter Naomi was in the backseat with two relatives.
He was going about 55 miles an hour when he noticed lights coming up from behind. “All of a sudden they were very close. And they hit me,” Jimenez said.
“He flung me against the little wall. And then my car started turning over.”
Jimenez said the car that hit him became jammed under his vehicle. “He was in back of me, in the rear. He was stuck to me.” He said the cars did not disengage until his Ford smashed into the center divider and began tumbling down the freeway. “He hit me, and he was behind me until my car started to roll over.”
One of the passengers in the backseat, 56-year-old Josefa Barrigan Dunn, said the Ford “made many turns. I don’t know how many. Maybe I’m dead now, I thought.” When the SUV stopped rolling, she took hold of the crying five-year-old girl and passed her out the back window to a man who stopped to help.
A 25-year-old Marine named Zach Thomas was on his motorcycle heading home to Oceanside when he saw the crash. He said he pulled over on the side of Interstate 5. It was about 1:00 a.m., January 4, 2009.
“I helped the family get out of the Ford Explorer.” He took the little girl out of the back and handed her to her father, who was walking in circles and yelling out nearby. “My daughter had all her hair full of blood,” Jimenez remembered later.
The Good Samaritans
Another driver on the freeway that night, Timothy Ricker, said that when he came upon the crash, he parked so his headlights lit up the cars. The cars were near each other and alongside the center divider, the Nissan upright, the Ford lying on the passenger side. Ricker said he climbed up onto the Ford to look through a window, taking care to avoid a front tire spinning wildly in the air. He tried to open a door. “It was crunched closed,” he said, so he climbed through a window down inside, where he found a woman. He saw that part of her body was trapped under the vehicle.
Ricker and four Marines who had stopped — Solomon Huss, Thomas Harley, Sean Wax, and Zach Thomas — pushed the Explorer back onto its wheels to free the woman.
As the vehicle was righted, the woman fell through a window onto the pavement.
Jimenez said, “When they lifted the car, my wife was just lying there.” She was bleeding from her head. His wife was six months pregnant.
No one could find a pulse on 24-year-old Yine Erandy Gonzalez Angeles. She was declared dead later at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. The medical team performed a Caesarean section to try to save the baby. The death of Baby Girl Gonzalez Angeles was declared at 1:55 a.m. by the county medical examiner. Jimenez was a widower at 26 years of age.
Out of the Nissan
The Marines helped two people get out of the Nissan.
Then-Marine Corporal Solomon Huss helped a dazed man out a rear door. Huss asked the man who the driver was. “He told me he was.” Huss said he advised this man to “Stand by on the side of the road and wait for a [California Highway Patrol] officer.” Corporal Huss was also an off-duty Los Angeles police officer.
Huss later identified Sudac in a photo lineup as the man who said he was the driver that night.
The dazed man told Huss that his friend was still in the car. Huss smashed a window with a golf club that someone handed to him. He reached in and pulled up on the door handle from inside. An evidence photo showed the head of a golf club resting on the rear seat of the Nissan surrounded by broken glass. On the floor of the front passenger side, wedged beneath the dashboard, Huss found an unconscious man and pulled him out. After the man regained consciousness, he stood next to Sudac on the side of the freeway.