BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern County jury on Friday found one man guilty of murder and another of manslaughter in a crash that killed a Bakersfield grandmother in 2019.
Ronald Pierce was found guilty of all charges, including second-degree murder. The jury found co-defendant Israel Maldonado not guilty of the murder count but convicted him of gross vehicular manslaughter and two counts of reckless driving causing injury.
Sentencing is set for May 5.
Pierce, 53, faces 15 years to life in prison for the murder conviction. Maldonado faces a maximum of seven years and fourth months in prison if the judge finds the charges of which he was convicted should run consecutively.
Prosecutor Cole McKnight said he was satisfied with the overall verdict. He said he would have preferred a murder conviction for Maldonado, too, but the jury’s verdicts show they found his conduct to be less egregious than Pierce’s.
Authorities said the two men were racing northbound on Old River Road when Pierce’s Mustang rear-ended a minivan, knocking it over a median and into oncoming traffic, where it was hit by a crane truck. The minivan’s driver, Maria Bianey Navarro, 58, died at the scene, and two of her grandchildren suffered moderate to major injuries.
Tests revealed Pierce’s blood-alcohol content was 0.24%, three times the legal limit. It’s alleged he was traveling 130 mph at the time of the crash. McKnight said Maldonado had reached speeds of at least 100 mph.
Pierce’s attorney, David A. Torres, had argued his client was guilty of voluntary manslaughter but said the evidence didn’t rise to murder. He said the evidence showed his client was trying to swerve away from the van.
Following the verdicts, Torres said he stands by his remarks.
“I recognize trying a case which involves alcohol, a death and injured children is difficult and can be very emotional to jurors,” Torres said. “The fact that the entire episode, including the crash, was videotaped by my client on a dash cam exacerbated the entire event.”
“However,” Torres said, “this case doesn’t rise to the level of malice requisite for a second-degree murder conviction.”
Tony Lidgett, the lawyer representing Maldonado, had asked for his client to be acquitted of all charges. He didn’t characterize what happened as a race, but said even if it was Maldonado had stopped racing by the time the crash occurred.
When the verdicts were announced, Lidgett said, Maldonado thanked him for his hard work and for attaining the acquittal on the murder charge.