Cyclist killed in Indio area, suspected Jim Swarzman killer released, Marco Antonio Valencia on trial

I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to write this.

Last night, the CHP reported a collision involving a cyclist in the Indio area; the cryptic feed indicated that the coroner had been called.

As I searched for confirmation, though, I found another report online that said the coroner call had been cancelled, and the rider had been transported to the hospital with major injuries. The CHP feed was later updated to indicate that, as well.

Unfortunately, the good news didn’t last.

According to a story in the Desert Sun, 39-year old Travis Carroll was pronounced dead at 8:17 last night, after being hit by a van while riding on Avenue 42 in Bermuda Dunes. The collision occurred between Washington and Adams Streets at around 7:35.

The sparse description of the collision in the Desert Sun doesn’t really make sense.

The paper reports that Carroll was riding on the north side of the street, which suggests he would have been riding west if he was riding with traffic. He then reportedly began riding southeast, which would mean he either had to make a U-turn, or had actually been riding against traffic and drifted across the roadway before being struck by the west-bound van,

However, that raises the question of why he would cross the path of an oncoming vehicle which should have been clearly visible as he faced it — especially since the paper reports that alcohol does not seem to be a factor.

According to reports, the investigation is ongoing.

.………

The same day Encino endurance cyclist Jim Swarzman was laid to rest at Forrest Lawn, word came that the driver suspected of killing him was released from custody.

According to San Diego’s KGTV, Joseph Ricardo Fernandez was released at the last moment before being arraigned. Reportedly, the reason stemmed from the three day limit authorities have to file charges after taking the suspect into custody.

The station indicates that the delay is due to ongoing forensic work to ensure that Fernandez’ Dodge Ram 1500 pickup was in fact the vehicle that took Swarzman’s life; following that, the DA needs to be able to show that Fernandez was actually the one behind the wheel.

I would hope that they are also investigating his actions before the collision; I suspect they may find that he was drinking heavily.

The reports I’ve heard say the collision was extremely violent; I’ll spare you the details, but it would have been virtually impossible for the driver to have been unaware he hit something, putting to question Fernandez statement to the police that he thought he might have hit something.

Unless he was in a significantly altered state, the driver had to know damn well that he hit something, making his flight afterward a purely intentional — and illegal — act.

The investigation is ongoing, and I have no reason to believe the San Diego DA’s office isn’t taking this case very seriously. But we may want to keep on top of it, just in case.

.………

I’ve been on the run the last few weeks, and haven’t had a chance to update the ongoing legal cases (my apologies to cyclist/attorney Dj Wheels, who has done a great job of keeping me abreast of the ongoing cases).

Wheels reports that the trial has begun in the case of Marco Antonio Valencia, charged with killing Joseph Novotny and seriously injuring three other riders in an alcohol and drug-fueled hit-and-run.

The Signal reports on yesterday’s testimony from the surviving riders; it’s difficult to read, but offers the clearest picture yet what happened on that tragic day. Here’s one brief excerpt:

Chad Lewin, 25, was riding in front of Munana and Novotny during the ride.

As Lewin was riding around a right turn, he saw the bicyclist in front of him slam on his brakes abruptly.

To avoid crashing, Lewin testified that he swerved into the roadway to his left to avoid crashing.

In an instant, he was knocked to the ground by the truck. As he slid, Lewin said his skin was ripped off — in some instances to the muscle.

“As I was sliding backward, I saw Joe 20 feet in the air and hit the mountainside,” Lewin said.

Dj Wheels has been attending some of the court sessions, and offers these thoughts:

It appears that Valencia’s defense will mainly focus on avoiding the “Watson” 2nd degree murder charge by arguing that although he was awake and able to drive, he was not “conscious” of his actions and thus did not have the required specific intent for murder, which would be implied malice.

I don’t know all the case law on these types of DUI murder charges, but essentially Watson says when you have been previously convicted of DUI, you should know all ready that driving drunk can cause serious injury or death, which would establish the intent requirement of malice.  The CA legislature later enacted CVC 23103.5.  As a resulty, many county courts and district attorneys offices for several years now have required defendants to sign a declaration admitting that you acknowledge these risks and that you may be charged with murder if someone dies as a result of their drunk driving.  I believe this declaration can also be used as evidence.

However, under CA Jury Instructions 8.47 says “If you find that a defendant, while unconscious as a result of voluntary intoxication, killed another human being without intent to kill and without malice aforethought, the crime is involuntary manslaughter.”

So my guess is that the defense will try to establish that none of the witnesses actually saw the driver of the vehicle (specifically his face/body) in the seconds before the collision and during the collision in order to establish a reasonable doubt about whether he was indeed “conscious.” I think the only defense witness will be the expert who will testify that someone can be unconscious due to voluntary intoxication, but still be awake.
.………

As long as we’re on the subject of biking collisions and court cases, we might as well keep going.

Danae Marie Miller will be arraigned today on one count of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated in the death of world-class trialthlete Amine Britel in Newport Beach last month. She’s currently out on $100,000 bail.

.………

John Stesney reports that a pretrial hearing is scheduled next week in the death of local scientist and cyclist Doug Caldwell. The hearing for accused driver Gordon Catlett Wray will take place at the San Fernando Courthouse, 900 Third Street in the city of San Fernando, on Wednesday, April 20th at 8:30 am, case #0SR05313.

My sources indicate that despite numerous questions that have been raised that the defendant was using a cell phone at the time of the collision, the prosecutor either can’t get the records, or won’t request them for some reason — even though they could offer proof of distracted driving in fatal collision.

Maybe a few cyclists in the courtroom could stiffen the DA’s resolve, and show how seriously we’re taking this case.

.………

Dj Wheels reports that Shawn Fields was arraigned on March 30th for the heartbreaking hit-and-run death of 17-year old Danny Marin in Pacoima last year; a description of the injuries suffered by Marin — again, I’ll spare you the details — suggests another extremely violent collision.

Wheels offers some revealing testimony from the case:

According to the arresting officer, Fields was asleep at home by the time they arrived at the location where the vehicle was registered. He wouldn’t wake up at first after knocking and banging on the windows from where they could see him sleeping.  Fields also volunteered a statement before being taken to the police station that he shouldn’t have driven home because he had too much to drink at a wrap up party at the Roosevelt in Hollywood. He also saw many bottles of various alcoholic beverages inside Field’s house.

Also, the officer that administered the breath test at the station noted that his BAC was .14/.15 at about 4:15 a.m. The collision occurred about three hours earlier.

The investigating officer who interviewed Fields at the station also testified. Fields told him he got to the party around 10pm and drank a long island ice tea, a red label whiskey, a gin and tonic, beer and some water before leaving. After walking out, he had a bacon wrapped hot dog on the street, threw up on himself, debated whether to drive home, waited in his car for a while then finally drove.  He did not have a recollection of actually driving home, but recalled he may have hit something because he remembered being at a stop light close to home and looking at sparkly dust on his arms from the shattered front windshield.

.………

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 28th at 8:30 am in the San Bernardino Superior Court in the case of Patrick Roraff and Brett Michael Morin for the street racing death of pro cyclist Jorge Alvarado last April.

.………

A preliminary hearing is also scheduled for May 11th in the case of Stephanie Segal, charged in the drunken hit-and-run death of cyclist James Laing in Agoura Hills last October.

.………

Jim Lyle forwards news that Richard Schlickman, the cyclist critically injured when he lost control of his bike due to newly installed speed bumps in Palas Verdes Estates, is showing amazing progress and determination, and may be transferred to a rehab facility by the end of the month.

.………

Meanwhile, reports are that your prayers continue to be needed for Adam Rybicki, critically injured by an alleged underage drunk driver in Torrance on April 3rd.

9 comments

  1. Allan says:

    Thanks to everyone for keeping us abreast of these incidents and cases. I sure hope the day comes soon that the tide turns.

  2. Way, way too many cases – so damn true. Keeping the spot light on these is critical to helping turn that tide I think so I’ll echo the thanks both personally and on behalf of the cyclists in the South Bay and the LA region that we’re all trying to support.

    What amazes me is that how in a country like ours how we significantly “under perform” compared to other places wrt to having cars and other forms of transport peacefully co-exist on our roads. And I’m not just talking about the Copenhagen but in many of the Asian countries I’ve spent time in an amazingly wide range of “vehicles” ply some very interesting roads quite successfully = together. Has all our “progress” come at a terrible price – basic respect?

  3. Jim Lyle says:

    As heart wrenching it is to read about these cases, it’s very important that the district attorneys prosecute these cases to the full extent of the law. Taking a life while DUI should be worth more than a slap on the wrist.

  4. Biker395 says:

    Unconscious, eh? Wow. Who knows what juries will do, but I know how I would counter that argument.

    Q: Did Mr. Valencia, crash here?
    A: No.

    Q: How about here?
    A: No.

    Q: And here?
    A: No.

    Q: And after he struck and killed Mr. Novotny, did he continue driving, managing to negotiate many other curves in the process?
    A: Uh …

    Q: So he were conscious enough to navigate his truck to where he struck and killed Mr. Novotny, went unconscious for just before the moment of impact, then regained consciousness to the point where he could navigate your car the rest of the way up Bouquet Canyon … that is what you want us to believe?
    A: Yes sir, and I’m an expert.

    Unconscious … sorry, but that argument doesn’t even pass the straight face test.

  5. DJwheels says:

    Danae Marie Miller entered a not guilty plea today to a felony count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Pretrial hearing is scheduled for May 19, 2011 in Dept. H1.

  6. Jeff says:

    I imagine the prosecution can make short work of the “not conscious” defense. Before the crash, Valencia looked at and flashed a peace sign at another driver who was on the phone with the Sheriff’s Department.

    Also when Valencia was finally stopped he requested that the arresting deputy “Kill me now,” because his life was over.

    • bikinginla says:

      Good point. That “kill me now” comment is a pretty good indication that he knew exactly what he’d done. Although I’m sure his attorney will try to explain it away by saying he was already depressed before the collision, and that’s why he was so drunk/stoned at such an early hour.

  7. Rob Cravens says:

    Thanks so much for doing the unpleasant job of keeping up with all this.

    Doug Caldwell was a frequent visitor to the facility where I work. I didn’t interact with him directly, but many of the people I work with did. One of my closest associates at work had ridden with him, and attended the funeral. One of the Vice Presidents of the company I work for, knowing Doug, and that I was a serious cyclist, stopped by my cube to give me a pep talk about taking safety seriously. I assured him I did, but there are no guarantees. The spot where Doug was hit is on my ride home (or was before injuries took me off the bike). I’ve ridden over that very spot hundreds of times. Almost exactly a year before Doug was killed, I was seriously injured in a cycling accident just a few miles past that spot, on Foothill.

    Even though I didn’t know Doug, I feel this very personally. I can’t thank you enough for keeping us informed of what developments there are. Please, if you can find out what happened at the hearing, do post it.

    Do you have the name and email of the prosecutor? I can’t take off work to attend hearings, but I can certainly send a friendly email to let him know HIS work is also appreciated. And the many friends Doug had at the place I work would also, I’m sure, like to encourage the prosecutors efforts.

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