A 41-year-old man had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit when he crashed head on into another car, killing a 77-year-old woman and injuring her boyfriend, on Ortega (74) Highway in San Juan Capistrano three years ago, a prosecutor told jurors Monday while the defendant’s attorney said his client’s fatigue caused not the collision, not inebriation.
Edward James Nani is charged with second-degree murder and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury with a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury.
Nani was charged with murder instead of voluntary manslaughter because he had a prior conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol in April 2010, Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman said.
Nani was warned when he pleaded guilty to the DUI that he could face an upgraded charge if he caused a fatal crash under the influence, Feldman said.
“When you literally sign a legal document acknowledging the warning of the consequences, the dire nature of their choices and choose to act in exactly that fashion it is not an accident,” Feldman said. “Mr. Nani is here because of his choices.”
Nani is accused of killing Amparo Lopez of Murrieta and injuring her 74-year-old boyfriend, Jose “Robert” Pacheco, also of Murrieta on March 31, 2018, on the highway, east of Antonio Parkway.
“We are here because of Mr. Nani’s choices, because of what he ignored, what he did and who he killed and injured,” Feldman said.
Matthew Atherley, another driver who was behind Nani in a Mazda Tribute, called 911 at 8:24 to report erratic driving, Feldman said. The motorist videotaped the driving and it was shown to jurors during opening statements.
Atherley drove up to the crash about 8:30 p.m. and called 911 again, Feldman said.
First responders needed the Jaws of Life to free the victims. Pacheco sustained a compound fracture of his leg, Feldman said. Nani sustained broken ribs and had trouble breathing, Feldman said.
A blood-draw at Mission Hospital showed Nani’s blood-alcohol level at .19%, more than twice the legal limit of .08%, Feldman said.
Another driver, Nahum Rodriguez, was driving behind Pacheco, who was driving a Honda HR-V, “was nearly a victim himself if he had not stopped in time,” Feldman said. “He watched as Mr. Nani drove straight into the victim in this case.”
Nani was about 19 miles from his home, where he told police he was headed, Feldman said.
Before the collision, Nani had to go to DUI classes after his guilty plea, where he was further instructed about the dangers of drinking and driving, Feldman said.
Nani’s attorney, Paul Singh Brar, said his client will testify in the case.
Nani brought his dog and camping equipment to the Cleveland National Forest on March 30, 2018, to participate in two distance runs, Brar said.
Nani ran five miles that evening, but he had a sleepless night, Brar said. He participated in a 17-mile run the next morning.
“He woke up early that next morning,” Brar said. “He started running approximately 6 a.m. He had concluded the race by 12. He will tell you he felt incredibly, incredibly fatigued with the physical exertion and little sleep.”
After the race he “had his first drink of alcohol,” Brar said. ” He drank a 12-ounce Guinness beer. About a half-hour after that he drank another one.
“An hour thereafter he poured himself a rum and Coke with one and a half shots of rum. Later that afternoon he had one and a half beers. All told, he stopped drinking about 4 p.m.”
Later, “He decides he’s going to pack up all of his belongings and go back home with his intent to make it back home by 9 p.m.,” Brar said.
“At no point were there any encumbering signs of alcohol impairment,” Brar said. “He packed up his tent, his portable stoves, his pet. He made multiple trips from his campsite to his vehicle to load the vehicle.”
At issue will be Nani’s level of intoxication, Brar said.
“At the time of the collision he had fallen asleep,” Brar said. “The exhaustion of the day’s event had finally overcome him.”
Breath tests and blood-draw tests indicated that his blood-alcohol level was rising after the crash, Brar said.
“Mr. Nani’s blood-alcohol level would have been lower at the time of he was driving than at any of the testing times,” Brar said.
The breath tests may have “overstated” his blood-alcohol level, Brar said.