A 44-year-old stole a car from a Santa Ana tow yard and then later that day swerved into oncoming traffic in Modjeska Canyon, slamming into a motorcyclist, killing him and injuring his passenger wife, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday, while the defense attorney said authorities rushed to judgment and failed to fully investigate the case.
Damon Ellery Block is charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving with a specific injury, hit and run causing death and unlawful taking of a vehicle, all felonies.
Block is accused of killing 55-year-old Drew Ketter of Midway City and injuring his wife, Joanne, who sustained multiple broken bones in the collision.
Just before noon, Aug. 1, 2016, Block stole a 1994 Honda Accord from a tow yard at 124 N. Sullivan St., Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue said.
“He sees the Honda Accord with the windows down and the keys in it” and takes the vehicle, Orue said.
Later that day, he was riding on a bike lane before swerving onto the shoulder on southbound Santiago Canyon Road, when he began swerving over toward oncoming traffic, Orue said.
The car collided with the motorcycle near Falcon Street as the Ketters left popular motorcyclist restaurant Cook’s Corner, Orue said.
The Honda ended up in an embankment and Block ran away from the crash, Orue alleged.
Police found numerous items in the car such as a Lipton Brisk iced tea bottle, sunglasses, Marlboro cigarettes, a jar of olives and a bottle of Evian water, Orue said.
Investigators lifted Block’s fingerprint from the iced tea bottle and found his DNA on the other items, Orue said.
They also found the defendant’s cell phone in the car, according to Orue.
Block’s attorney, Michele Bell, conceded her client stole the car, but she said the only item with no other DNA on it was the iced tea bottle. All the other items had DNA from others, she said.
Investigators could not work up an identification of the DNA on the car’s steering wheel and gear shift, Bell said.
The attorney accused Orange County sheriff’s deputies of a “rush to judgment… They had a suspect and they went with it.”
Bell also said some evidence such as 911 calls and initial police reports were destroyed in the case. She also accused deputies of failing to interview some witnesses, who have been questioned by the defense team and are expected to testify.
Two hikers in the area told a sheriff’s deputy they saw someone wearing black near the crash scene and handed him a discarded water bottle, Bell said. Another witness responded to the crash as a good Samaritan, Bell added.
“At the end of evidence in this case I know there will be reasonable doubt of the circumstantial evidence of my client driving the suspect vehicle,” Bell said.
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