A state appeals court panel has upheld the conviction of a man with five prior DUI convictions for a drunken crash on Angeles Forest Highway that killed a Los Angeles County employee and injured another person.
In a ruling Wednesday, the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that substantial evidence demonstrated that Michael Walsh caused the collision that killed 48-year-old Ross Diaz and left another motorist injured on Valentine’s Day 2017.
“Walsh drank alcohol, then climbed behind the wheel of his pickup truck, knowing he was probably over the legal limit,” the appellate court justices wrote. “He knew the road was curvy, as he had driven the same route in the same truck over the past two months … Everyone who came into contact with him that night believed he was intoxicated, consistent with the blood test results and the field sobriety tests.
The panel noted that the defense’s theory at trial was that the sole cause of the collision was the county’s failure to post signs warning drivers to reduce their speed going into the curve on the two-lane highway, where Walsh crossed over the double-yellow line in his Ford F-250 pickup truck and collided with Diaz’s Volkswagen Beetle and a Honda Accord that was driving behind it.
“The (trial) court did not abuse its discretion in finding the evidence demonstrated Walsh’s actions caused the collision and in declining to credit Walsh’s defense that the county’s negligence was the sole and superseding cause of the collision,” the justices found in their 28-page ruling.
The appellate court panel also rejected the defense’s contention that the trial court erred in ordering just over $1.1 million in restitution for past and future lost wages to the victim’s widow. The panel noted that Diaz was a deputy compliance officer with the county’s Department of Human Resources and was the sole provider for his wife and four children.
The justices noted that the prosecution presented certified documents showing that Walsh had five prior DUI convictions — three in Ventura County and two in Los Angeles County — dating from 1989 to 2011, and that he had participated in DUI education programs that warned about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Walsh was convicted of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury within 10 years of another DUI offense and driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content causing injury within 10 years of another DUI offense.
He was sentenced to 21 years to life in state prison.
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