Alleged hit-and-run driver pleads not guilty to vehicular manslaughter

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comAugust 21, 2013 

Vicente Muniz Montes, 38, of Shandon was arrested Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, felony DUI, fatal hit-and-run, driving with a suspended license and failure to appear before court (after a previous DUI arrest). Original story »

A Shandon man involved in a car crash that killed two people last week allegedly told police he fled the scene because he didn’t have insurance, a driver’s license or vehicle registration.

Vicente Muniz Montes, 38, appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court for an arraignment Wednesday. He was charged with four felonies, including two counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit and run causing death and driving with a suspended license.

With the aid of an interpreter, Montes pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The crash occurred around 1:15 p.m. Aug. 17 on Highway 46 East, near Shandon, when Montes, who was driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, collided head-on with a Nissan Versa. Both passengers of the Nissan, Charles Massara, 69, and his wife, Irene Massara, 68, of Bakersfield, were killed.

After the collision, Montes and his passenger, Florencio Ochoa Rojas, 27, also of Shandon, exited the Jeep and walked away from the scene, according to police reports. Police later found both men at a friend’s residence.

According to police reports, the following occurred:

Montes, who has lived in the United States for 15 years, told police that he had four Tecate beers over a 3-hour span and at some point had offered to give Rojas a ride home. As he prepared to make a left-hand turn on Highway 46, he said his vision inexplicably became blurred, then the collision occurred.

Three vehicles were involved in the wreck. Montes said he remembered seeing two people in one of the cars. He told police he hoped their injuries were not too severe.

Montes and Rojas hitched a ride to the friend’s residence, but Montes did not report the accident due to his fear of not having needed vehicle paperwork.

Police interviewing him said Montes smelled of alcohol, had watery eyes and spoke slowly. A Breathalyzer given to Montes nearly four hours afterward indicated a blood alcohol level of 0.048 percent. (The legal limit is 0.08 percent.)

At the time, Montes had another previous DUI case pending, from January. In that case, he had allegedly been driving 100 mph, also on Highway 46, with a blood alcohol level of 0.12 percent.

On Tuesday – the same day vehicular manslaughter charges were filed against him – Montes entered a guilty plea to the previous DUI.

When Rojas was questioned, he told police he knew it was wrong to leave the scene, but he said he was afraid.

Since he was not the driver, the District Attorney’s Office did not file charges against him.

Irene Massara died at the scene of the crash; her husband died shortly after being airlifted to Twin Cities Community Hospital. When told of the severity of the injuries, according to the police reports, neither Montes nor Rojas showed emotion.

Montes, who is being held on $200,000 bail, is set to appear in court again Sept. 11 for a pretrial hearing.

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