A Las Vegas truck driver faces up to 10 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter Thursday in the Christmas Eve 2014 crash that killed four people on Highway 101.
It took jurors only four hours to convict Philip Ken Trujillo on all four felony counts in the deaths of Crystal Reuck, David Castillo, Taylor Swarthout and Karen Szaz after they deliberated the case Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Charles Blair argued that Trujillo was reckless and indifferent to oncoming vehicles when he turned his tractor-trailer from Highway 101 onto westbound Wellsona Road on Dec. 24, 2014. The truck had been experiencing problems during Trujillo’s drive up Cuesta Grade from San Luis Obispo.
As Trujillo slowly turned across the southbound lanes toward the San-Paso Truck Stop, a van driven by Reuck slammed into the trailer and exploded into flames, killing all four people inside.
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Juror James Harrington of Nipomo said the jury could have delivered its verdict Wednesday but members decided to sleep on it to be sure.
“It was not something that anybody did lightly,” Harrington said.
Himself a former truck driver, Harrington said the most compelling evidence was that of accident witness Arturo Sandoval, who was driving behind Trujillo when the van driven by Reuck struck Trujillo’s trailer as he was turning left onto Wellsona Road.
“He was right there behind him when everything happened,” Harrington said. “The gentleman had no dog in the fight.”
Sandoval testified that he saw Trujillo’s truck making the left-hand turn at an extremely slow speed, 2 or 3 mph. Sandoval further testified that he wouldn’t have made the turn at that moment even in his pickup.
Harrington said there were two eye witnesses to that fatal collision, and jurors only heard from one. The other, Trujillo himself, did not take the stand at trial.
All we know is, this guy (Trujillo) put a 65-foot wall in the middle of the road.
Juror James Harrington
When jurors entered deliberation, they did so without evidence from a coroner’s report that Reuck had methamphetamine and other drugs in her system at the time of the crash. Judge Michael Duffy excluded that evidence from trial prior to its beginning.
Asked whether knowledge that Reuck was driving under the potential influence of methamphetamine at the time of the collision would have changed his verdict, Harrington said he stood by his decision.
“All we know is, this guy (Trujillo) put a 65-foot wall in the middle of the road,” he said, while Reuck had the right of way.
Thursday’s verdict brought an end to the nearly two-week trial, which began May 12. After hearing the verdict, Blair asked that Trujillo, who was out of custody on bail during the legal proceedings, be remanded to San Luis Obispo County Jail without bail until he is sentenced June 22.
Duffy granted Blair’s request over attorney Raymond Allen’s objection. Duffy noted that although Trujillo had cooperated with the terms of his release from custody thus far, he now stands convicted of serious charges.
Both Blair and Allen declined to comment on the trial after its conclusion.