Crime

Arroyo Grande man sentenced to jail for fatal Grover Beach hit-and-run

Zachary Diaz, 22, of Arroyo Grande, was sentenced Monday to a year in County Jail and five years of probation for manslaughter and hit and run. Diaz struck and killed Juli Anna Conn and seriously injured Steven Lee Stapleton at a Grover Beach intersection in August 2016.
Zachary Diaz, 22, of Arroyo Grande, was sentenced Monday to a year in County Jail and five years of probation for manslaughter and hit and run. Diaz struck and killed Juli Anna Conn and seriously injured Steven Lee Stapleton at a Grover Beach intersection in August 2016.

An Arroyo Grande man who fled the scene after hitting two pedestrians at a dark Grover Beach intersection, killing one of them, was sentenced Monday to serve a year in County Jail.

Zachary David Diaz, 22, will also be on felony probation for five years, according to his attorney.

Diaz was accused of driving into the intersection of Grand Avenue and Seventh Street in Grover Beach on the night of Aug. 27, 2016, and striking Atascadero residents Juli Ann Conn, 59, who was killed, and Steven Lee Stapleton, 54, who was treated at an intensive care unit for days following the collision.

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Juli Anna Conn and Steven Lee Stapleton Grover Beach Police Department

Diaz originally faced two felony charges of hit-and-run resulting in injury or death and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. The manslaughter charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, and Diaz pleaded no contest to both charges Jan. 22.

Under the terms of his plea, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen could have sentenced Diaz to up to 16 months in County Jail, according to court records. Prior to the plea, Diaz faced as much as four years in jail.

At about 9:55 p.m. Aug. 27, 2017, police received 911 calls from witnesses who said the two pedestrians were walking at a crosswalk at the time of the crash, Grover Beach police Chief John Peters said at the time. Diaz fled eastbound on Grand Avenue in his vehicle after the crash.

Police investigators were able to identify him after being contacted early the next morning by several people with information regarding the fatal crash, Peters said. At about that same time, Diaz turned himself in to authorities.

“Finally, after approximately four hours of hiding out at his home, (Diaz) appeared at the Grover Beach Police Department to face the music,” a District Attorney’s Office motion reads.

Diaz was not accused of having been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

According to court records, Diaz addressed the court and the victims’ families with a statement at the hearing.

His attorney, Ginger Ortiz, said late Monday that the crash was an accident caused by poor lighting at the intersection, which police had to light up with portable lamps to examine the scene. She said Diaz fled after going into shock immediately after hitting the couple but said he turned himself in before his identity was released on social media.

“He did the right thing. It took a lot of courage, and for him it was the only way forward,” Ortiz said. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to see that side of it.”

She added: “There’s nobody that doesn’t get devastated by this.”

After the sentence was read, Diaz was placed in handcuffs and taken to County Jail.

Conn was one of two pedestrians struck and killed at a Grover Beach crosswalk in 2016. The police department has since conducted crosswalk safety enforcement to promote pedestrian safety.

A restitution hearing has been scheduled for June 11 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1

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