A 24-year-old man who’d been warned twice about the dangers of driving under the influence was convicted Monday of second-degree murder for using heroin before causing a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist in Newport Beach.
As a convicted drunken driver, Neil Storm Stephany was warned he could face a murder charge if he was involved in a deadly collision while intoxicated, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said.
She told jurors that the defendant fled the crash scene because he was on probation and knew he was in trouble.
Stephany’s attorney countered that his client’s “state of mind” at the time of the Oct. 19, 2014, collision was so clouded he did not know he hit anyone, and should not be convicted of second-degree murder.
The collision happened about 5 p.m. that afternoon on East Coast Highway. Shaun Eagleson, 30, of Fountain Valley, was riding his bike northbound and was killed when he was struck by the defendant’s Toyota Tacoma, Walker said.
Before the collision, calls were already streaming in to police about the defendant’s “erratic driving” on the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (73) toll road, according to the prosecutor.
“They saw him in his truck driving all over the place, stopping at green lights,” Walker said, adding that he also struck a guard rail on Pacific Coast Highway.
Police caught up with Stephany near Fashion Island, where he failed field sobriety tests and had “fresh track marks from heroin use,” Walker said.
Blood tests showed the defendant had heroin and Lorazepam in his system, she said. He also had another drug on him that is used to help with heroin withdrawal, according to Walker, who said Stephany had intended to check into a rehabilitation facility the following day.
The defendant had been warned twice that if he drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he would face a murder charge, Walker said. Stephany would typically have faced a manslaughter charge, but has a prior conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol, prompting the second-degree murder charge.
Stephany pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence on Oct. 4, 2011, and was sentenced to a two-day jail term and placed on three years of informal probation.
On Aug. 6, 2013, Stephany pleaded guilty to assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, both felonies, and was immediately sentenced to 180 days in jail and placed on three years of formal probation.
He was also ordered to participate in a drug or alcohol program and was again warned he could face murder charge if killed anyone in a traffic accident.
A Jan. 15 sentencing date is scheduled. Stephant faces up to 15 years to life in prison.
—City News Service
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