Man faces murder charge in crash at Paso Robles construction site

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comOctober 30, 2013 

A Bakersfield man who was repeatedly warned about his drug use and dangerous driving faces a murder charge for a deadly vehicle accident he caused at a Paso Robles construction site.

Yet, an attorney for the defendant told a jury Wednesday that Jerad Scott Cross — while responsible for a man’s death — is no murderer.

“What he did was something stupid,” attorney William Moore said, adding that Cross’s actions warranted a charge of gross negligent manslaughter, not second-degree murder.

Cross’s case represents one of several pending criminal cases involving a vehicle death. Cross’s case — a rare vehicular fatality resulting in a murder charge — is currently being presented before a jury in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

While Moore said the incident should not have resulted in a murder charge, Deputy District Attorney Matt Kraut said Cross’s history of reckless driving and the many warnings he received elevated the case against him.

“He failed to heed those warnings, and it’s because of those warnings that I’m going to ask you to convict Jerad Scott Cross of murder,” he told the jury.

On the morning of Nov. 7, 2012, two vehicles were stopped at a construction zone on Highway 46 near Paso Robles: a semitrailer carrying canned goods, driven by David Smith; and a Chevy Silverado, driven by Richard Gamez, a 45-year-old contractor heading to work. As Cross, 32, approached the two vehicles in a Ford F-350 pickup truck, he fell asleep, Moore said. A construction flag man, Shaun Ranney, waved his arms to alert Cross, but Cross did not respond, forcing Ranney to run for cover. Soon after, Ranney heard a horrific explosion, Kraut said.

After the pickup struck Gamez’s vehicle, the semi moved forward 12 feet. And Gamez, of Clovis, was killed instantly, his car sandwiched between the two other vehicles.

When the semi driver exited his truck, he noticed Cross patting his pockets and looking for something in his vehicle, Kraut said. “The defendant didn’t seem quite right to him.”

As Cross was being taken to the hospital, paramedics said they saw a pipe fall out of one of Cross’s socks, Kraut said. Other witnesses, he added — including emergency personnel at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center — said Cross didn’t appear in pain despite the badly broken ankle he suffered in the crash.

Cross allegedly admitted to crushing his prescription anxiety medication and snorting it, enhancing the effect of the drug, Kraut said. He was also taking painkillers for a sore back.

When prescribed that medication, Kraut said, he had been warned not to drive.

Cross also has a history of reckless driving. Since 2000, he has had five speeding tickets and was the cause of three accidents. In 2008, he was arrested for driving under the influence.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran said it’s rare to file a murder charge in a case involving a fatal traffic accident. But the charge can be filed if the prosecution believes there is malice — that the defendant knew what he was doing was dangerous and did it anyway.

While his license was suspended on Nov. 7, Cross didn’t intend to drive that day, his attorney said.

“Was Mr. Cross some maniac driver, who jumped behind a wheel ... trying to kill people?” he said. “No. He was a young man.”

Cross, who was unemployed, was riding with a friend, who is a construction worker; when the friend became tired, he asked Cross to drive.

“He was begged to take the wheel,” Moore said.

When he dozed off, his decision had tragic consequences.

“That was the wrong day of his life to try to help out a friend,” Moore said.

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