The murder conviction and life sentence have been upheld for a repeat drunken driver who caused a fatal accident that killed a devoted family man.
The decision may be the final chapter in the tragic story of the death of Taylor Embree.
Embree was a 29-year-old husband and father who lived in South Lake and worked for Granite Construction in Arvin.
On Oct. 16, 2013, he worked a 15-hour shift and got home at 9:30 p.m., his wife, Britney, later told a jury. She had dinner waiting for him. He ate and took a shower.
“We had just a little bit of time to visit before it was time to go to bed,” Britney testified. “He always kissed our son good night when he was going to sleep. “I would say by 10 p.m. he was in bed.” She said he was asleep within 10 minutes.
“He left for work around 3:30 a.m.” the appeals court opinion said. “Britney would leave the coffee pot ready and he would take a ‘big coffee cup’ with him. Britney testified that their son woke up crying after Embree got dressed, so Embree gave him a cup of milk before leaving.
“Embree then came to say goodbye to Britney, who gave him a hug and told him she loved him,” she later told a jury.
Embree headed down the mountain from South Lake to Arvin.
He was on Comanche Drive just north of Breckenridge Road shortly after 4 a.m., according to trial testimony, when a Ford Explorer driven by Gustavo DeLaCruz crashed into his Chevrolet Colorado head-on. The force of the impact ripped the cab off the pickup’s frame, killing the young father instantly.
DeLaCruz was 35, and in the United States illegally. He had been deported and returned at least twice, according to court documents.
He had two prior DUIs. He didn’t have a driver license. He was on probation.
A CHP analysis proved DeLaCruz was traveling at 85 mph when he crossed the centerline in the two-lane highway.
His blood alcohol level was measured at 0.10 percent, well above the legal limit. He tested positive for methamphetamine. He told investigators he used meth and drank a six-pack of beer before the accident.
He was charged with second-degree murder and with driving drunk on a suspended or revoked license. In March, 2016, a Bakersfield jury found him guilty and a judge sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison plus 10 years.
On appeal, his attorneys contended he had been deprived at trial of his right to confront the witnesses against him.
Defense attorneys argued the technician who tested his blood for alcohol did not testify at trial – her supervisor outlined the technician’s findings. The attorneys argued the supervisor’s testimony should have been excluded.
The 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno was not convinced, unanimously rejecting the argument and upholding the conviction and sentence.
They reasoned that even if the trial judge had excluded the testimony of the laboratory supervisor, DeLaCruz still would have been convicted.
“The evidence showed that Delacruz was driving under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine, he was driving at excessive speed into a curve, his vehicle was over the roadway’s center divide at the time of the collision, there was no evidence he braked prior to the collision, and he did not appear to be undertaking an evasive maneuver,” the justices wrote.
DeLaCruz, now 41, is serving a life term at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran. His first parole hearing is in 2025.
The case is: Peo. v. DeLaCruz, http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/F073639.PDF