For the second time, a deadlocked jury prompted a judge Monday to declare a mistrial on a second-degree murder charge in the case of a man who drove drunk and fatally struck a Lyft driver tending to a sick passenger outside of his car on a freeway shoulder near downtown San Diego.
Jurors told Judge Amalia Meza they were deadlocked 11-1 for acquittal on the murder charge.
A different jury in April found 26-year-old Steven Quintero guilty of DUI causing injury, hit-and-run and driving on a suspended license, but deadlocked 6-6 on the murder charge and 10-2 for guilt on a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter in the Oct. 1, 2016, death of 41-year-old Henry O. Reyes of Escondido.
Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright said Quintero — who had a prior DUI conviction from November 2015 — “was warned of the dangers of drinking and driving, (but) he did it anyway.”
“This defendant intended to drink, he intended to drive, and he did both,” the prosecutor told the jury in the retrial. “Six times he was told that drinking and driving is dangerous to human life.”
The fact that Quintero fled after the crash shows he was aware of his guilt, Bright said.
An expert testified that Quintero’s blood-alcohol content was between .12 and .18 percent at the time he hit Reyes, an aspiring dentist and the father of a 2-year-old child.
A passenger in the Lyft car, Kelly Hoffman, testified at a hearing last year that she and two friends were dropped off about 11 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2016, and had drinks at a couple of downtown San Diego nightclubs before stopping for some gelato.
As they headed home about 1 a.m. in the Lyft car driven by Reyes, passenger Sarah Smith got sick and Reyes pulled onto the shoulder of eastbound state Route 94 near 28th Street to get her out of the car and give her some water, Hoffman testified.
Minutes later, the Lyft car was hit from behind and Reyes was killed as he walked around the front of the car to get back in.
Hoffman, who was on the phone in the backseat when the collision occurred, said she “was hit so hard I didn’t know where I was” and suffered a broken bone on the top of her foot, whiplash and a concussion.
Smith, who had cuts to her chin, a neck injury and a bruised spine, said she has no memory of the crash.
According to court testimony, Quintero was entering the freeway at 25th Street when he slammed into the back of Reyes’ Kia.
Quintero walked away from the collision but was arrested nearby a short time later. A female passenger in his car suffered a broken wrist.
Defense attorney Suesan Gerard told the jury in the retrial that Quintero — who has a severe learning disability — made some bad decisions but “is not a murderer.”
Quintero will be back in court July 13 for a status conference.
–City News Service