The accused hit-and-run driver charged with killing Encino cyclist Jim Swarzman has pleaded not guilty in San Diego Superior Court.
No charges for DUI charges or killing another human being, whether carelessly or deliberately. Just running away like a coward and leaving a crumpled body behind.
Fernandez faces up to four years for taking the life of another human being – less than Dr. Christopher Thompson received for attempting to injure two riders in Mandeville Canyon.
Hopefully, the case is still under investigation; it’s always possible that additional charges may be added later.
The description of the collision suggests that the driver was either asleep or extremely drunk when he hit Swarzman, as witnesses reported the truck drifting from lane to lane before swerving over to hit Swarzman’s bike.
Witness descriptions also suggest that the driver was fully aware that he hit something, despite Fernandez’s reported comments when he turned himself into police that he thought he may have hit something over the weekend.
By all accounts, the collision was extremely violent. People on the scene, including Swarzman’s fiancé, say his bike exploded on impact and that he was hurtled through the air before crashing to the roadway; the driver then sped away from the scene.
And yes, Swarzman was riding exactly where he should have been on the roadway, and was lit up like a Christmas tree in the North County San Diego darkness.
It plausible that Fernandez was so drunk — or yes, so tired — that he couldn’t remember it the next day.
But I find it impossible to believe that he did not know, at the moment of impact and the minutes that followed, that he had hit someone or something, and made the decision to run away rather than stop and be held accountable for his actions.
Of course, I have no way of knowing if Fernandez had been drinking. My speculation — and at this point, that’s all it is — is based strictly on the late hour and the witness descriptions of the truck’s actions before and after the collision.
Although if I had to make a bet, I’d lay everything I own on it.
And that shows the failure of our current laws regarding hit and run. As it now stands, California law actually encourages drivers to flee the scene if they’ve been drinking, because the penalties for drunk driving are much stronger than the penalties for hit-and-run.
If he was in fact intoxicated, the smartest decision Fernandez made that night — as least as far as his legal prospects are concerned — was to run away until he could sober up, then turn himself in once the booze and/or drugs were out of his system and a DUI charge was off the table.
And that has to change.
At last report, Fernandez was still being held on $100,000 bond. His next scheduled court appearances are a readiness conference on May 5th, and a preliminary hearing on May 10th in the San Diego Superior Court, North County Regional Center, case number CN290834.
I’m not mad yet. But I’m getting there.
Correction: Originally, I had written that Fernandez had pleaded guilty. That was a typo; the plea was not guilty, as I’ve corrected it above. Thanks to Dj Wheels for the catch.