Two men involved in a road rage-fueled crash that killed a 9-year-old boy in Orange were convicted Tuesday of gross vehicular manslaughter.
Roderick Kent Jerro, 53, of Orange, and Miguel Villagomez Jr., 29, of Anaheim, were found guilty in the Aug. 6, 2015, chase and crash that killed 9-year-old Jesse Rosales on Glassell Street at Wilson Avenue. Jerro was also convicted of hit-and-run causing permanent injury.
Jerro, who has a prior strike conviction for a 1986 residential burglary in Los Angeles County, pleaded guilty on the eve of the trial to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He could face up to 25 years to life in prison as a third striker. Villagomez faces up to six years in prison. Both are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12.
Jurors, who deliberated for about a day and a half, deadlocked 7-5 on a sentencing enhancement allegation for Jerry of fleeing the scene of a vehicular manslaughter.
The defendants pointed blame at each other during the trial.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky told jurors during the trial that Villagomez, who was driving a Ford Ranger pickup, ran a red light and struck Jerro’s Chevy Malibu at Palm Avenue and Tustin Street in Orange about 9:30 p.m. the night of the crash.
Villagomez kept going and Jerro chased him, the prosecutor said. The two raced on local streets, driving through stop signs and red lights, even driving on the wrong side of the road, Bokosky told jurors.
The two were still “driving like maniacs” when they ran a red light on Glassell at Wilson, Bokosky said. At the time, Jesse and his 14-year-old sister, Yadira, were crossing Glassell to meet with their mother, Leticia, Bokosky said.
Villagomez’s truck just missed hitting Yadira, who jumped backward, Bokosky said.
“Jesse does what any 9-year-old does when they’re fearful — he goes for his mother,” putting him in the path of Jerro’s car, Bokosky said.
The Malibu’s driver’s side mirror struck Jesse as witnesses heard a palpable “thump,” Bokosky said. The boy’s DNA was found on the car, according to the prosecutor.
The boy was flung 30 feet, and was pronounced dead just before 10 p.m. at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, she said.
The two suspects kept going until Villagomez lost control of his truck at Taft Avenue and slammed into a brick wall, Bokosky said.
Jerro, still irate over the initial crash, grabbed a flashlight and smashed the windows of Villagomez’s pickup, the prosecutor said. Villagomez was on his cell phone and ignored witnesses who ran to his aid, she said.
Jerro’s attorney, Jerome Bradford, argued that his client was pursuing Villagomez to make a citizen’s arrest. He said Jerro had just gotten his car back from the shop after being victimized in another hit-and-run collision.
Villagomez’s lawyer, Julie Swain, foisted blame for the boy’s death on Jerro.
Swain said she agreed with most of the prosecution’s case, but said her client was not legally responsible for the boy’s death.
Swain said Villagomez was trying to get away from the enraged Jerro following the minor hit-and-run.
“Mr. Villagomez did his best to drive away as safely as possible,” Swain said.
Villagomez was “afraid” of Jerro, she said.
At the final crash, Jerro allegedly told police, “It’s lucky you guys got here, I was going to kill him,” Swain said, adding, “Who wouldn’t run from that?”
Villagomez “is not legally responsible for Jesse Rosales’ death,” Swain said. “It’s a tragedy, but what would compound the tragedy is Mr. Villagomez being held responsible for something he didn’t do.”
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