A U.S. Marine Corps sergeant’s blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he crashed a car into a tree in Dana Point, killing three fellow servicemen, a prosecutor said Wednesday, while the defendant’s attorney countered that it was a “tragic” accident on a rain-slick roadway.
Jared Ray Hale is charged with driving under the influence causing bodily injury and driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit causing bodily injury. He also faces three sentencing enhancement allegations of causing great bodily injury.
Hale was initially charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. His attorneys appealed the multiple great bodily injury sentencing enhancements for each of those charges and obtained a favorable ruling, which prompted prosecutors to refile the charges, but now Hale faces more years behind bars if convicted.
Hale and three friends, all of them stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, went to Hennessey’s Tavern in Dana Point the night of Feb. 13, 2012, according to Deputy District Attorney Stephen Cornwell.
About 1:50 a.m. on Feb. 14, Hale and his friends left the bar and got into a Dodge Stratus, with Hale driving, Cornwell said.
Hale was driving north on Golden Lantern Street in Dana Point when he lost control of the car about 2 a.m. at a curve in the road at Terra Vista, Cornwell said. The car slammed into a tree.
Sgt. Jeremiah Callahan, 23, of Chadron, Nebraska, and Cpl. Christopher Arzola, 21, of Westfield, Massachusetts, were pronounced dead at the scene. Cpl. Jason Chleborad, 22, of Rapid City, South Dakota, was pronounced dead about an hour after arriving at Mission Hospital.
All three were data network specialists who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2008.
Hale was treated for brain trauma and a broken arm. About 40 minutes after the collision, his blood-alcohol level was measured at .175 percent — or more than twice the legal limit — and it was just over .16 percent about 90 minutes following the crash, according to Cornwell.
“Ladies and gentlemen, when you weigh the evidence here, there’s only one direction it will point, and that’s toward the defendant’s guilt,” the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney William Paparian said Hale and the victims had been training together in the mountains of northern California to prepare for combat in Afghanistan when they were given “liberty.”
The day before they went to Hennessey’s, the defendant partied and drank with other Marines in Temecula, Paparian said. He said Hale returned to base and came down with a cold, which he medicated with NyQuil, a cold and flu medicine that contains alcohol.
Chleborad implored Hale to go with the other two, who were in the same elite combat unit, to Hennessey’s to drink and see a comedian’s stand-up act, Paparian said. Hale told the corporal he did not want to drink because of his cold, prompting Chleborad to ask the defendant to be their designated driver, the attorney said.
Other Marines at the bar the night of the crash are expected to testify that Hale showed no signs of being drunk, according to Paparian. He said Hale only had one drink — a toast with his buddies when they arrived at Hennessey’s.
Paparian also disputed the prosecutor’s statement that “the roadways were a little wet” the night of the crash.
“The prosecution’s going to try to downplay the rain that night,” Paparian said. “It was not slightly damp. That road was soaking wet.”
Rain was a “significant factor” in the crash, Paparian said. “What happened that night was not a crime; it was a tragic accident.”
Callahan and Chleborad served together in Afghanistan from September 2010 to March 2011, according to Camp Pendleton officials.
Callahan earned the Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and NATO ISAF Afghanistan Medal.
Arzola was the recipient of the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Chleborad earned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and NATO ISAF Afghanistan Medal.
—City News Service