A 45-year-old man was sentenced Friday to more than 15 years in prison for a reckless driving collision in a stolen car that killed a motorcyclist in Modjeska Canyon.
Damon Ellery Block was convicted in September of gross vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving with a specific injury, hit-and-run causing death and car theft, all felonies. Jurors, who deliberated for about a half day, also found true sentencing enhancements for fleeing the scene of the vehicular manslaughter.
Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley sentenced Block to 15 years and four months in prison.
Block was convicted of killing 55-year-old Drew Ketter of Midway City and injuring his wife, Joanne, who sustained multiple broken bones in the collision.
Block stole a 1994 Honda Accord — the windows were rolled down and the key was inside — from a tow yard at 124 N. Sullivan St. just before noon Aug. 1, 2016, Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue said.
Later that day, he was driving in a bike lane before veering onto the shoulder of southbound Santiago Canyon Road when he began swerving toward oncoming traffic, Orue said.
The car collided with the motorcycle near Falcon Street as the Ketters exited Cook’s Corner, a popular restaurant for bikers, and after the Honda went up an embankment, Block fled the crash scene, the prosecutor said.
Police found numerous items in the car, such as an iced tea bottle, sunglasses, cigarettes, a jar of olives and a bottle of water. Criminalists were able to lift Block’s fingerprint from the tea bottle and found his DNA on the other items, Orue said. They also found his cell phone in the car, he said.
Block’s attorney, Michele Bell, conceded her client stole the car, but said the only item with no one else’s DNA on it was the iced tea bottle. All the other items had DNA from others, she said, arguing that someone else was behind the wheel at the time of the collision.
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, and accused deputies of failing to interview some witnesses.
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, she added.