Photo by bloomsberries / via Flickr

A suspected drunken driver who veered into a coned- off construction area on state Route 94 in Jamu, where he fatally struck a highway worker pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI charges.

Arnold Lee Patton, 69, is accused of fatally striking 27-year-old Jesus Gonzalez at about 10 p.m. Dec. 16 on westbound state Route 94 near Cougar Canyon Drive.

California Highway Patrol Officer Travis Garrow said the victim, who was employed by a Caltrans subcontractor, was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital. He was pronounced dead at the hospital about 1 a.m., according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Evans said Patton was speeding and weaving along the highway prior to striking Gonzalez, who landed on top of Patton’s Lincoln Town Car and was driven about 30 feet before falling off the vehicle. Patton continued driving about another 50 feet before stopping the car and getting out, according to the prosecutor, who said Patton had a blood- alcohol level of .17 soon after the crash, more than twice the legal limit.

Prior to the crash, Patton tried to get into the Jamul Casino — about five miles southeast of the crash scene — but was not allowed in due to being too intoxicated, the prosecutor said.

Casino staff advised him not to drive and offered him “sober driving options,” but he allegedly refused and left the casino. Staff notified the CHP and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department that Patton was driving under the influence, but the fatality occurred just minutes later, Evans said.

Bail was set Thursday at $250,000 and Patton’s next court date is a Jan. 12 readiness conference.

–City News Service