lady justice blindfolded holding scales of justice

A surgeon pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for a crash that killed two people on State Route 133 in Laguna Beach four years ago, and was immediately sentenced to 240 hours of community service.

Robert McFarland Pettis, 52, of Laguna Beach accepted a plea deal under which prosecutors dropped two felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter that could have resulted in more than nine years in prison had the thoracic surgeon gone to trial and been convicted.

Pettis was speeding in his Tesla Model S north on Route 133 about 6:40 a.m. on April 2, 2013, when he veered into oncoming traffic to avoid being hit by another car and slammed head-on into a Honda Accord, according to his attorney, Paul S. Meyer.

The crash killed 47-year-old Alberto Casique and his passenger, 38-year-old Armando Gonzalez, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

“This was the right call,” Meyer said of dropping the charges down to misdemeanors. “He did exceed the speed limit and that contributed to the causes of the people’s deaths,” Meyer said, but maintained that his client was trying to avoid being hit by another car that was merging as the road narrowed to one lane at El Toro Road.

“There was another car involved, with the driver not charged,” the defense attorney said.

Civil suits were filed against the state for the road design, Meyer said.

He said Pettis “immediately leapt out of his car and administered first aid to these people and ignored his own injuries,” calling his client “a wonderful surgeon and human being.”

“This has been a tragic situation for everybody,” Meyer said.

Because Pettis works to save lives as a physician the deadly accident has “been a tremendous burden on him,” the defense attorney said.

–City News Service

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