Man found guilty of murder in fatal crash at Paso construction site

Rare second-degree murder conviction for 32-year-old who had drugs in system

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comNovember 8, 2013 

A Bakersfield man with a history of dangerous driving was convicted of second-degree murder Friday for causing a deadly accident at a construction site while under the influence of prescription drugs.

Jerad Cross, 32, plowed a pickup into a vehicle driven by Clovis resident Richard Gamez, 45, who was stopped at a construction site near Paso Robles on Nov. 7, 2012. The impact rammed Gamez into a semitrailer stopped in front of him.

Cross, whose driving record included three at-fault accidents, five speeding tickets and a previous DUI, was driving with a suspended license at the time. Deputy District Attorney Matt Kraut said the prescription medication Cross had taken that morning included a warning not to drive. Yet he still took the wheel of a truck that was hauling two large storage containers.

Cross, of Bakersfield, had crushed and snorted his medications to make them more effective and had also smoked methamphetamine the night before, Kraut said.

Cross’ murder conviction — a rarity in vehicular death cases — came after a two-week jury trial, which included testimony from the defendant and witnesses who were at the site.

Cross’ friend was delivering the storage containers, with Cross as a passenger, when the friend became sleepy and asked Cross to take over. Although warning signs preceded the construction site for just over two miles, Cross never slowed, investigators said.

His attorney, William Moore, argued that Cross was not guilty of murder because he didn’t know he was putting drivers at risk.

“He thought he could drive,” Moore argued. “That’s the mistake he made.”

But Kraut said his driving history — plus warnings from pharmacists about the mix of his medications and driving — should have prevented him from driving. Instead, he took the wheel and continued driving even after he began to nod off.

“Why not pull over, for Pete’s sake?” Kraut argued to the jury. “Any right-thinking person would. Any person that wasn’t high on drugs would.”

Gamez is survived by a wife, who attended the trial, and a son.

Cross, who was also convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license and possession of drug paraphernalia, faces a possible life prison term when he is sentenced Dec. 18.

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