A 29-year-old Placentia man twice convicted of driving under the influence of drugs should be found guilty of murder for a Laguna Niguel crash that killed a woman walking her dog, a prosecutor told jurors Friday.
But the defendant's attorney said the collision was not his client's fault.
Both sides agree Adam Harrison Hall was behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer that collided with another SUV at Moulton Parkway and Nueva Vista Drive around 11:10 a.m. on Feb. 13, 2011.
The dispute centers on Hall's claim he was westbound on Nueva Vista and making a left turn when his vehicle was T-boned. Prosecutors contend he was traveling north on Moulton Parkway and T-boned another vehicle before crashing into pedestrian Mara Steves, a community activist.
Hall was charged with second-degree murder, driving under the influence, forgery of a prescription and obtaining or possessing drugs with a forged prescription.
This wasn't his first brush with the law. In March 2008, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence charges related to an October 2007 collision and was sentenced to three years of informal probation and a program warning about the dangers of driving under the influence.
Three months after that, he was arrested again for driving under the influence and later pleaded guilty to another misdemeanor DUI and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, five years of informal probation and various drug and alcohol programs.
In both cases, Hall was warned by judges he could face a murder charge if he caused a deadly crash while intoxicated, Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino told jurors.
Hall was traveling at least 60 mph on Moulton and ran the red light at Nueva Vista before the collision, Pino said. A blood test showed he had methamphetamine, valium and Xanax in his system, the prosecutor added.
Hall told investigators at the time he was northbound on Moulton and thought he had the green light, Pino said.
Dr. Steven James, who was behind the wheel of the other vehicle involved in the crash, was driving east on Nueva Vista, Pino said.
Steves, 48, who had been trying to find the owner of a stray Labrador retriever, was slammed into a block wall and died from her injuries. Veterinarians were able to save the dog, Max.
James suffered severe bruising in the crash and his passenger, Anna Gaffney, sustained a broken collar bone.
To make the case that Hall was traveling north on Moulton, Pino will rely on surveillance video from a Shell gas station down the street that appears to show someone who resembles Hall exiting the business in his vehicle at 11:08 a.m.
Complicating the case, however, was a "law enforcement error," in which investigators grouped witnesses together at the scene, giving them an opportunity to compare notes and mix up some facts in the case, Pino said. An accident reconstruction expert will testify that the skid marks and damage to the vehicles prove what happened, Pino said.
Hall's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Richard Cheung, said an accident reconstruction expert he hired will testify the damage to the vehicles shows Hall turning left on Nueva Vista when his vehicle was T-boned.
"All the physics ... do match," Cheung said. "Physics doesn't change, math doesn't change."
As for statements Hall made to investigators, he was "in shock" following the collision and was taken to Mission Hospital to be treated for a broken nose and leg and told authorities he did not recall what happened, Cheung said.
Hall's dependence on prescription narcotics grew out of depression and anxiety that arose when his father took his own life in 2006, his attorney said.
Cheung disputed that the man seen in the gas station surveillance video was his client.
Some witnesses will testify James ran the red light, he said.
"Whoever ran the red light on Moulton caused the accident," Cheung said.
-- City News Service