A twice-convicted drunk driver was going the wrong way on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway at nearly 100 mph just one second before slamming into another car on the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, killing its driver and seriously injuring a passenger, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.
Ivan Gonzalez of Lake Forest is charged with second-degree murder, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury and driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level exceeding the legal limit of .08%, all felonies. He also faces sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury on the victims.
Gonzalez was charged with murder instead of manslaughter because state law allows for enhanced charges when a defendant has been previously convicted of drunken driving. Gonzalez pleaded guilty June 30, 2016, and Feb. 27, 2017, to driving under the influence.
Gonzalez is accused of killing 33-year-old Michael Johnston Jr. of Brea and seriously injuring his passenger, Amber Rickman, who suffered multiple fractures to her face and jaw, and a broken leg.
The crash happened just after 2 a.m., Jan. 5, 2018, on the “flyover” connector from the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue.
“Three hours after the crash, his blood-alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit,” Orue said.
A blood test showed his blood-alcohol level to be at .20% to .21%, Orue said.
A “black box” computer in Gonzalez’s Toyota Camry showed his car was going 99.52 mph about one second before the crash, and it slowed to 74.64 at 0.1 seconds before the collision, according to Orue.
The defendant’s southbound Camry slammed into Johnston’s 2000 Ford Mustang head-on in the northbound HOV lane as police officers were frantically attempting to catch up to Gonzalez and stop him, Orue said.
California Highway Officer Bryan Gonzalez was the first to spot the defendant’s wrong-way vehicle at Gene Autry Way on the 5 Freeway, and two other officers gave chase when they heard his dispatches over the police radio, Orue said.
Officer Gonzalez got on the southbound side of the freeway to try to catch up to the southbound defendant in the north lanes, Orue said.
“That’s where the nightmare starts,” Orue said.
“He gets up to speeds of 100 mph” and he still couldn’t catch the defendant, Orue said.
The officers have video from their squad cars of the crash that jurors will consider in the trial.
Gonzalez had been drinking from about 10:15 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. at the Round 1 bowling alley at Main Place Mall in Santa Ana prior to the crash, Orue said.
“When this occurred he was signed up for an alcohol class,” Orue said, adding the defendant had just met with an alcohol counselor.
Gonzalez’s attorney, J.R. Thomas, told jurors that the evidence in the case is “circumstantial,” as he implored them to keep an open mind.
“Mr. Gonzalez has made mistakes, no doubt about it,” Thomas said.
“This is a case of murder, it is not a case of any other kind of homicide,” Thomas said. “It requires a murderer’s state of mind.”
Thomas said in court papers filed before the trial began that he intended to try to prove that his client was “unconscious leading up to and at the point of the collision,” so Gonzalez could not have formed a state of mind with “malice aforethought,” which is one of the necessary legal elements of a murder charge.