A state appeals court panel Friday upheld a man’s conviction for leading Gardena police on a pursuit that ended in a crash that killed his passenger.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that a judge had erred by allowing jurors in Candido Rivera’s trial to see footage from body cameras worn by two police officers depicting the events after the Jan. 9, 2018, crash at the intersection of Normandie Avenue and Century Boulevard in South Los Angeles.
Rivera accelerated toward a police officer’s patrol car, striking the door, and led police on a roughly four-minute pursuit at speeds ranging from 70 to 110 mph on city streets. He ran at least six red lights and collided with two vehicles before losing control of the silver Honda CR-V, which crashed into a utility pole and burst into flames, according to the appellate court panel’s 19-page ruling.
Rivera’s passenger, Jacqueline Cortez, 21, died of blunt force trauma from the collision, and it did not appear that the ensuing fire contributed to her death, according to trial testimony.
Rivera, a Los Angeles resident, was convicted of murder, fleeing a pursuing peace officer’s motor vehicle causing death, assault on a peace officer and hit-and-run driving resulting in property damage. He pleaded no contest before the trial to two other counts — driving or taking a vehicle without consent with a prior conviction and driving when privilege was suspended or revoked, according to the ruling.
“The severe damage to the vehicle from the force of the impact, the fire that immediately erupted, and the officers’ difficulty in extinguishing the fire demonstrated the dangerousness of Rivera’s driving and that death was likely to result from his driving,” the appellate court panel found. “The trial court did not err in determining that the body camera footage was relevant to the murder charge.”
The first four minutes and 22 seconds of the video shows a Gardena police officer driving his patrol vehicle in pursuit of Rivera after police determined that the Honda had been reported stolen from South Gate a day earlier. The other portion of the video showed officers using fire extinguishers on the burning vehicle, officers extracting Rivera from the vehicle and one of the officers expressing distress that they could not rescue Cortez.
Rivera, now 32, is serving a potential life prison term.
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