Dorian Hargrove 12:47 p.m., May 19
Jury deliberates fatal car crash charged as murder
Trial for man accused in head-on collision in Valley Center almost one year ago
A San Diego County prosecutor asked the jury to find an Escondido man guilty of second-degree murder, after he allegedly caused a fatal head-on-collision in Valley Center almost a year ago, on April 25, 2012.
Jose Raul Najera, 34, is accused of driving a stolen car, while high on heroin, with deputies in hot pursuit, when he crossed over to the wrong side of the road and smashed head-on into a Subaru driven by a 76-year-old woman.
The gray-haired woman who survived the collision testified this morning, she said it was “just a normal morning,” going to her usual Wednesday painting class that day. Then, “I saw this car coming at me.” She swerved to avoid the car but it swerved at the same time and they collided. “I couldn’t get out,” she told the jury. “I couldn’t open my door. My foot was trapped.” The dignified lady said that after the crash she chose not to look at the other car because she could hear sounds, and she figured “it must be pretty bad.” Emergency responders arrived quickly, near the intersection of Cole Grade Road and Valley Center Road. “I don’t actually remember them taking the door off,” the woman testified. She was put into an ambulance, and then into a helicopter, and taken to hospital. She suffered four fractured vertebra and a collapsed lung and her ankle “is still not working right,” she said today. The survivor, now 77, wore white pearls and purple velour for her court appearance this morning.
Public defender Mignon Hilts told the jury, “Mister Najera made some bad decisions that day” but that he “is not a callous murderer.” The defender explained that in his “drug-induced state,” Najera might not have realized that he was driving onto the wrong side of the road. The defense attorney asked the jury to find Jose Raul Najera guilty of manslaughter instead of the murder charge.
Prosecutor Laurie Hauf told the jury, “He knew his act endangered human life” and “what he did is murder” and asked the jurors to “hold him accountable.”
Thirty-two-year-old David Lopez, a passenger in the stolen Ford driven by Najera, died of blunt force trauma to his chest, according to a county medical examiner who testified today.
Besides the murder charge, Najera faces five other felonies: gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence, DUI causing injury, evading a peace officer causing death, stolen vehicle, and possession of meth.
The prosecutor alleges Najera has seven prior felony convictions in San Diego County, including two “strike priors.”
After three days of testimony, jurors were given the case to deliberate this afternoon, March 4, 2013, in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse.