With prosecutors planning to re-try the defendants on a second-degree murder charge, sentencing remained on hold Tuesday for two men convicted of vehicular manslaughter for a street race that killed an 81-year-old woman seven years ago in Rancho Mirage.
Scott Daniel Bahls, 34, of Palm Springs, and Wade Klinton Wheeler, 37, of Rancho Mirage, were found guilty in 2016 of vehicular manslaughter, engaging in a speed contest and reckless driving, but jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting them of second-degree murder following a monthlong trial and a week of deliberations.
The convictions on the three charges the jurors agreed on will stand, but they will not be sentenced until the second-degree murder charge is resolved, either through a trial or a plea agreement, said John Hall, spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
There was no immediate word on when a re-trial will begin.
If convicted of the second-degree murder charge, Bahls could receive a sentence up to 15 years to life and Wheeler 40 to life, Hall said.
The defendants are accused of causing a June 18, 2013, crash that killed Barbara Schmitz and seriously injured her husband, Gerald.
The crash was the culmination of a four-mile street race that began on Date Palm Drive in Cathedral City and ended when Wheeler’s BMW crashed into the side of the victims’ Ford Focus as Gerald Schmitz was turning left onto Highway 111 from Dunes View Road. The car launched into the air and rolled several times before coming to rest at a Union 76 gas station near the intersection.
According to court documents, witnesses reported seeing two drivers swerving through traffic and “communicating to each other through their windows. Both vehicles were seen either side by side or within a car length apart.”
Barbara Schmitz died at Eisenhower Medical Center about two hours after the crash. Her husband suffered numerous injuries, including a brain hemorrhage, broken ribs and vertebra, and ankle, tibia, fibula and pelvis fractures. Wheeler broke his right leg.
Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fox told jurors the defendants were driving in excess of 70 mph in a 45 mph zone on Highway 111 just prior to the crash and were cognizant of the risk they were taking — an element necessary to prove implied malice needed for a second-degree murder conviction.
“These were two grown men behaving like children,” Fox said in his closing argument. “They didn’t want to hurt anyone. But that doesn’t mean they’re not murderers.”
Bahls’ trial attorney, Stephanie Arrache, told jurors there was no evidence the men were involved in a street race. Arrache and Wheeler’s attorney, Rodney Soda, said the evidence showed that Gerald Schmitz was at fault and had more than enough time to gauge oncoming traffic before turning, but didn’t.
“He could have seen oncoming traffic had he been paying attention,” Arrache said.
Fox, however, said Schmitz properly gauged the distance between him and the defendants’ cars, but could not have anticipated the speed at which they were approaching.
Bahls is scheduled to return to court for a trial readiness conference on Feb. 10, and Wheeler on Feb. 21.
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