BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Attorneys presented opening statements Wednesday in a DUI and murder trial where prosecutors say a Redlands man drove under the influence when he crashed into a Jeep on Highway 99, killing a woman and her 5-year-old son.
Daniel Mejia, 24, faces a life term in prison if convicted of the two counts of second-degree murder with which he’s charged. Other charges filed against him are two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and two felony DUI charges.
Defense attorney Christopher Martens said much of the evidence in this case is not contested. He said it’s true that Mejia drove a black Chevy Silverado and was involved in a “horrible, very tragic accident” that killed two people.
But he said the evidence does not support the second-degree murder charges, and his client should instead be found guilty only of the gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI charges.
Prosecutor Michelle Domino, however, said Mejia’s actions support guilty verdicts on all charges.
Witnesses reported Mejia swerved and cut off other motorists as he traveled at speeds up to 100 mph, Domino said. Multiple people called 911 to report his erratic driving.
Testing by the Kern Regional Crime Laboratory showed Mejia’s blood-alcohol content was 0.25 percent, more than three times the state legal limit at which a person is considered impaired, the prosecutor said.
In the current incident, Juan Rodriguez Garcia was driving his family in a Jeep on Nov. 24, 2017, when he slowed and pulled over on southbound Highway 99, just north of Taft Highway, to change a flat tire.
Mejia’s truck slammed into the back of the Jeep, which rolled and caught fire, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The crash killed 5-year-old Axel Rodriguez and injured his mother, Karla Mendoza, 21, who died the next day.
Axel’s 3-year-old sister, Zoey Mendoza, suffered moderate injuries, officers said.