A defense attorney’s scheduling conflict led a judge Friday to reschedule a preliminary hearing to early next year for a Murrieta man facing second-degree murder and drunken driving charges stemming from a fatal Palm Springs crash.
It’s the second preliminary hearing continuance for Michael Torrez, 34, whose blood-alcohol limit was allegedly nearly double the legal limit of .08 when his pickup truck crashed into two cars on March 16, 2018, killing Mario Garcia, 25, of Palm Springs.
A judge at the Larson Justice Center rescheduled the hearing — which will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial — to Jan. 10 because Torrez’s attorney was busy with another case, according to court records. His preliminary hearing was initially scheduled for August.
Torrez was charged in April 2018 with second-degree murder rather than vehicular manslaughter due to a prior DUI conviction in 2008. Drivers with DUI convictions are warned at sentencing that if they drive under the influence and cause a death, they could face a murder charge.
Before the fatal 11 p.m. collision, Torrez was allegedly observed heading westbound on Ramon Road while “swerving in and out of the lanes at a high rate of speed,” an arrest warrant declaration alleges.
While passing El Cielo Road, Torrez’s Ford F-150 rear-ended a Nissan Versa, then veered into a Nissan Sentra driven by Garcia. The Versa was sent into a curb and street sign after being struck, but its occupants were uninjured, according to Palm Springs police.
Investigators allege that Torrez had to be sedated and restrained while being transported to Desert Regional Medical Center for major injuries sustained in the crash.
He “yelled profanities at emergency personnel and he flailed his arms and attempted to free himself from restraints that were applied to him,” according to the declaration, which alleges he told a responding firefighter, “When I get done, I am going to (expletive) you up!”
Torrez remains in custody in lieu of $1 million bail at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta, jail records show.
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