A Paso Robles man charged with causing the deaths of two people while driving on pain medication last March pleaded no contest Thursday to two misdemeanors.
Charles Hutchison, 47, will be sentenced Sept. 17 for two counts of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. According to a California Highway Patrol report, it could not be proved that Hutchison’s pain medication contributed to the accident.
The head-on collision occurred March 23 near the site of the infamous crash that killed actor James Dean almost 60 years earlier. According to a CHP report, Hutchison, of Paso Robles, was driving a Ford F-350 pickup east on Highway 46. A witness said he made a sudden drastic turn toward a Y-intersection of Highways 46 and 41. Because he began to turn 60 feet before the intersection, he wound up traveling into the path of oncoming traffic.
At the time, two Shafter men, Mark Montgomery and Lyle Davidson, both 63, were traveling west in a Chevrolet Silverado, headed for a fishing trip at San Antonio Lake. The vehicles collided head-on, and the canoe that had been attached to the top of the Silverado wound up in the windshield of Hutchison’s pickup.
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Montgomery and Davidson were killed in the crash.
Hutchison, who suffered a concussion, called his wife and told her he was trapped inside his vehicle.
While at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, the CHP report stated, Hutchison said all he remembered was putting on his left-turn signal, and when he woke up he had what he thought was a car in his windshield.
According to the CHP, Hutchison’s wife said she begged him not to go to work that morning because he had bronchitis and a 103-degree fever. Doctors, who suspected he might have had Valley fever, prescribed antibiotics for his bronchitis and painkillers for a bad back and knees.
Hutchison’s physician authorized him to drive and perform his regular duties as a heavy equipment operator, the report noted.
Hutchison’s wife said her husband had been on the medications at the same dosage for years. But Montgomery’s wife, Mandee Montgomery, said she wishes more investigation had been done.
She believes Hutchison should have been charged with felonies.
“I feel I’ve been cheated,” she said after the hearing.
The CHP report concluded that drug abuse did not appear to be a factor though Hutchison’s condition after the crash also made it impossible to conduct motor skills or balance tests. A blood sample was drawn, but not until six hours after the crash.
Mandee Montgomery said she and her husband married on July 7, 2014. He was a retired firefighter, who had lost a previous wife to cancer in 2009.
“He just treated me like I was his princess,” Mandee Montgomery said.
The two had purchased a trailer and planned to travel once she retired from the post office. They also had planned a vacation to Hawaii in April.
“I did’t know life could be so good until I met him,” she said.