Crime

Convicted truck driver seeks new trial in Hwy. 101 crash that killed 4

The attorney of Philip Trujillo, a Las Vegas truck driver found guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter in a 2014 Highway 101 crash that killed four people, is demanding a new trial, claiming misconduct.
The attorney of Philip Trujillo, a Las Vegas truck driver found guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter in a 2014 Highway 101 crash that killed four people, is demanding a new trial, claiming misconduct. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The attorney for a Las Vegas truck driver convicted of four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter has requested a new trial, alleging that both prosecutorial misconduct and judicial error tainted the verdict delivered by jurors in May.

Raymond Allen, attorney for Philip Ken Trujillo, filed the motion June 9; Trujillo was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.

The motion alleges that San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy refused to allow the jury to consider key evidence that Trujillo’s Miranda right against self-incrimination was violated. It also claims Deputy District Attorney Charles Blair committed prosecutorial misconduct by telling jurors that Allen didn’t believe in his own case and by the prosecutor implying that he had “special information” the jury did not.

A jury in May found Trujillo responsible for the deaths of Crystal Reuck, Taylor Swarthout, David Castillo and Karen Szaz after a minivan driven by Reuck collided with the trailer of Trujillo’s rig as it was turning left across Highway 101 at the Wellsona intersection on Dec. 24, 2014.

However, Allen alleges jurors were wrongly deprived of knowledge that Reuck, who was driving the minivan, had methamphetamine, amphetamine and marijuana in her system at the time of the fatal collision and that she might have consumed methamphetamine as late as 1:30 p.m. that day, just five hours before the fatal collision.

Reuck also had a history of suicide attempts, suffered from severe depression and anxiety and was having “significant relationship problems and financial worries” at the time, Allen wrote.

“It would have been important for a jury to learn the impact of such stressors on a highly suicidal young woman,” he added.

Nor did the jury learn, Allen wrote, of a suicide note written by Castillo found in the vehicle.

“A full understanding of the circumstances could have led the jury to conclude that the acts of defendant Trujillo were not causal or even a substantial factor, and that Reuck was wholly responsible for the deaths of herself and her passengers,” Allen wrote.

Allen alleged Duffy further erred in not instructing jurors that statements allegedly made by Trujillo after the accident, relayed to the jury by California Highway Patrol officers on the witness stand, should not be taken as true. Officers did not read Trujillo his Miranda rights, which includes the right to speak to an attorney and the right to remain silent, before speaking to him. As Trujillo was obligated to wait for law enforcement to arrive after the accident, those interviews took place in police custody, Allen alleged.

Lee Cunningham, spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, said he was unable to comment on “the merits or lack thereof” of Allen’s allegations, but that his office has assigned a different deputy district attorney to the case going forward. Cunningham added that his office will demand a hearing to examine the allegations and make the case that there has been no misconduct.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

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