A twice-convicted drunken driver was convicted Monday of second-degree murder and other charges for a high-speed, wrong-way DUI crash on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway that killed a man and seriously injured his passenger.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour before convicting Ivan Gonzalez of Lake Forest of 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%. The panel also found true sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury.
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, who is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 3, faces up to 18 years to life in prison.
The crash happened just after 2 a.m. on 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.
The collision killed 33-year-old Michael Johnston Jr. of Brea and seriously injured his passenger, Amber Rickman, who suffered multiple fractures to her face and jaw, and a broken leg.
Three hours after the crash, the defendant’s blood-alcohol level was measured at .20 to .21% — almost three times the legal limit of .08, according to Orue.
A “black box” computer in Gonzalez’s Toyota Camry showed his car was going 99.52 mph about one second before the crash, and slowed to 74.64 at 0.1 seconds before the collision, the prosecutor said.
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 Patrol 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.
Gonzalez got on the southbound side of the freeway to try to catch up to the southbound defendant in the northbound lanes, Orue said.
“That’s where the nightmare starts,” Orue said, telling jurors that the officer “gets up to speeds of 100 mph” and still couldn’t catch up with the defendant.
Video from the officers’ squad cars was shown to jurors.
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,” the prosecutor said, adding the defendant had just met with an alcohol counselor.
Gonzalez’s attorney, J.R. Thomas, argued that the evidence in the case was “circumstantial,” as he implored them to keep an open mind.
“Mr. Gonzalez has made mistakes, no doubt about it,” Thomas said, but argued it was “not a case of murder.”
Thomas contended that his client was “unconscious leading up to and at the point of the collision,” so could not have formed a state of mind with “malice aforethought,” which is one of the necessary legal elements of a murder charge.
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