Jurors deadlocked 11-1 for acquittal for a 47-year-old man charged with murder in what prosecutors say was a deadly street race in Irvine, the defendant’s attorney said Tuesday.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett declared a mistrial on Monday when jurors could not reach a verdict in the trial of Patrick Le. The jury foreman said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal.
Le is scheduled to return to court March 26 for a pretrial hearing to consider whether the case should be dismissed or another trial is warranted.
The deadly crash occurred the afternoon of July 3, 2018, on Main Street in Irvine.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Janine Madera said in a trial brief in the case that it was not known how the street race began just after 3 p.m.
Le was driving an Acura RL and co-defendant Anthony Gabriel Valenzuela was driving a Hyundai Veloster on Main Street and Red Hill Avenue in Irvine where the speed limit is 50 mph when a shuttle bus driver adjacent to Le heard the revving of engines, Madera said.
“When the light turns green, Le and Valenzuela take off from the limit line quickly and accelerate quickly, as is clearly shown in the video from the shuttle bus,” Madera wrote in the trial brief.
Another video from a business at 18071 Fitch shows the alleged race continuing, Madera alleged.
“Far from having the street to themselves, Le and Valenzuela are clearly going faster than the other vehicles,” Madera wrote.
“Valenzuela then moves into the No. 2 lane while Le chooses to move into the No. 1 lane rather than slow down and allow Valenzuela to take the lead. The front of Valenzuela’s vehicle stays slightly ahead of Le’s vehicle as he moves from the No. 2 lane into the No. 1 lane.”
Le did not slow down to let Valenzuela pass, but kept pace and veered over the double yellow divider and into oncoming traffic, Madera alleged. The cars were going 60 to 63 mph, she added.
The victim, 43-year-old Carmella Van, slammed on the brakes of her vehicle, but Le “never brakes,” Madera alleged.
The defendant “never turns his wheel to avoid a crash,” Madera wrote. “Le’s car shows no sign of loss of control. Instead, he drives straight into the victim’s vehicle, hitting her head on, forcing her backwards. Her insides were ripped apart by the force of the crash and she died instantly.”
Van, who was driving home from work, was married and mother of a son, Madera said.
Madera alleged that Le lied to investigators in claims he was not racing or that the incident was a case of road rage.
Valenzuela, who is also charged with second-degree murder, is next due in court April 30 in the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach for a pretrial hearing.
Le’s attorney, Brian Gurwitz, argued that Le was forced out of his lane by Valenzuela.
Le also pointed out that Valenzuela has a lengthy history of driving violations dating back to running a red light in Santa Ana in May 2009 through a speeding ticket in Fountain Valley in November 2017. In all, Valenzuela has racked up eight speeding tickets, Gurwitz said.
Also, on Nov. 4, 2019, he was involved in a crash in Fountain Valley, Gurwitz said.
“My position was that the other driver is a proven psychopath, who my client did not know, and pushed my client off the road,” Gurwitz said.
“My client was not racing and this was an overcharged case that never should have been a murder against my client,” Gurwitz said. “At most it was a manslaughter.”
A second-degree murder conviction carries a 15-years-to-life sentence, but manslaughter convictions do not carry life sentences.
Jurors told Gurwitz they were “frustrated by the District Attorney’s Office not giving them any other option other than murder,” Gurwitz said.
“They were clear that the district attorney had not proven murder… I believe the jurors rejected the argument that my client intentionally went into oncoming traffic. That would have shown my client as suicidal.”
Gurwitz said his client regrets the crash.
“From the very beginning of this my client has been extraordinarily remorseful for his role in taking another person’s life, but the legal theory of how it happened isn’t supported,” Gurwitz said.
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