A 17-year-old charged in connection with a crash a year ago in Irvine that killed five other teenagers denied vehicular manslaughter allegations in a juvenile petition Monday, his attorney said.
Bradley Morales, who was 16 at the time of the Oct. 4, 2014, crash, made his initial appearance in Juvenile Court on five felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter as well as driving without a license or proof of insurance, defense attorney Michael Khouri said.
Morales, who’s being held in Juvenile Hall, was ordered back to Juvenile Court on Nov. 16, Khouri said. By then, the probation department is expected to finish a report on whether the teen is better suited to face charges as an adult or juvenile, Khouri said.
“The question for the probation department is whether he is suitable for trial in Juvenile Court as opposed to adult court,” Khouri said.
A judge will make the determination on whether he is tried as an adult or juvenile.
“We believe the case is more suitable for juvenile court,” Khouri said.
The defense attorney said his client has no prior record, and said the case did not involve gangs, weapons or drugs or alcohol.
“And we believe the allegations in the petition are untrue,” Khouri said. “We don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to show (he was the driver), nor do we believe he was behind the wheel.”
When the boy was taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo to be treated for injuries he sustained in the crash, tests showed he did not have drugs or alcohol in his system, Khouri said.
Prosecutors alleged excessive speed in the complaint against the teen, who has fully recovered from his injuries, according to his attorney.
He underwent brain surgery after the crash, in which he sustained a large skull fracture, Mission Hospital officials said last year.
“The Mission Hospital doctors saved his life, and not only did they save his life but they also saved his quality of life,” Khouri said. “But he’s grieving over this as much as anyone because the kids who died were his friends.”
The teenager was taken into custody Saturday, a day after being named in an arrest warrant that prosecutors secured on Friday, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Florentino Olivera.
The crash happened just after 2 a.m. on the southbound side of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, south of the Route 133 toll road.
The white 1995 BMW the teens were in veered off the freeway and caught fire. Morales reportedly told first-responders that the group had been returning from a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park.
Killed in the crash were 14-year-olds Brandon Alejandro Moreno of Mission Viejo, Alejandro Sotelo of San Juan Capistrano and Jennifer Bahena of Laguna Hills, and Jennifer Campos of Aliso Viejo and Matthew Ivan Melo of Mission Viejo, both 15.