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Driver in fatal Santa Margarita crash faces trial despite objections over blood test

The San Luis Obispo Courthouse Annex.
The San Luis Obispo Courthouse Annex. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The case against a 24-year-old San Luis Obispo woman suspected of being under the influence when she allegedly caused a head-on collision last spring that killed a Santa Margarita woman will proceed despite arguments raised by her defense over the handling of a blood sample.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen ruled Wednesday that there was enough probable cause that Jessica Lea Allred will proceed to arraignment on felony charges of driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter.

Allred was behind the wheel of a white Saturn traveling westbound on Highway 58, east of Santa Margarita, when her vehicle crossed the double yellow lines and collided with a blue Toyota driven by 56-year-old Denise Fox at 6:14 p.m. April 30, 2016. Allred broke both ankles and her right leg in the collision, while Fox died of her injuries.

Allred was taken to the emergency room at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, where she later was interviewed by California Highway Patrol Officer Barry Williams and was found to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit for driving.

Allred’s attorney, Patrick Fisher, questioned whether her blood test, conducted at 7:59 p.m. at Sierra Vista, was mishandled.

“There is an issue as to how the blood was drawn,” Fisher said in proceedings.

Williams testified that he witnessed a lab technician draw blood from Allred after he conducted a field sobriety test while she lay in her hospital bed. Williams told Fisher that he took the blood sample, placed it in a paper envelope and then put it into his vehicle. He then drove to Paso Robles, where the sample was placed in evidence.

Williams testified Wednesday that Allred smelled strongly of alcohol, had red, watery eyes and slurred speech, all signs of possible intoxication. Fisher raised the possibility that Allred’s eyes could have been red from crying and that her speech could have been slurred from painkillers she was given for her injuries.

Williams also testified that two witnesses reported seeing the vehicle driven by Allred swerving on the road prior to the accident.

Fisher asked whether swerving on the road could be attributed to the fact that Allred, who was leaving the Pozo Stampede music festival, had the sun in her eyes, which Williams dismissed.

In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Chase Martin said that Allred’s high level of intoxication and crossing into the oncoming lane are evidence of gross negligence.

“It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous position to be in,” Martin said.

Fisher said crossing over the yellow lines wasn’t evidence of gross negligence, “just a dangerous road.”

Should Allred maintain her plea of not guilty at an Oct. 23 arraignment, the case is likely headed to trial. Van Rooyen, at Fisher’s request, also ordered the completion of a pre-plea report, evaluating Allred for the purposes of determining a plea offer.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

Angela Carr, whose mother, Denise Fox, was killed in a car crash April 30, 2016, explains the photos, letters and notes that help her to remember her mother.

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