A driver who caused a head-on collision that killed two Shafter men at the site of the notorious James Dean crash is facing two charges of vehicular manslaughter.
Meanwhile, the widow of one of the deceased men filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Monday against the driver, Charles Hutchison of Paso Robles, after a California Highway Patrol report said Hutchison, 47, was taking pain medication and was at fault in the accident.
About 6:50 a.m. March 23, Hutchison, driving a Ford F-350 pickup truck, was traveling east on Highway 46 where it meets Highway 41 at a Y-intersection.
According to the CHP report, several witnesses said Hutchison began to make an abrupt left turn onto Highway 41 and failed to navigate into the entrance of the highway and, instead, traveled directly into the path of oncoming traffic.
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Mark Montgomery and Lyle Davidson, both 63, traveling west in a Chevrolet Silverado, had no time to react, and the two vehicles collided head-on.
The two Shafter men, who were friends since childhood, were heading out on a fishing trip, Montgomery’s wife said. They were towing a canoe, which launched into the windshield of Hutchison’s vehicle.
Montgomery and Davidson were killed in the crash. Hutchison was taken to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo with serious but nonlife-threatening injuries.
On June 10, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office filed two misdemeanor charges of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence against Hutchison.
He is due in court for a pretrial conference Aug. 6, according to court records.
On Tuesday, Montgomery’s wife, Mandee Montgomery, of Shafter, said she was disappointed the District Attorney’s Office only charged Hutchison with two misdemeanors when a CHP report showed that Hutchison was wearing half of a 50 milligram patch of the powerful painkiller fentanyl and had taken a 30 milligram dose of the opiate Oxycontin at about 2 a.m. that morning.
However, the CHP was unable to determine if Hutchison was impaired following the crash because of the extent of his injuries, and a blood test was not administered until 1 p.m.
“(Although) it didn’t appear that abuse of his medication was an issue, the fact is there was no possible way to perform any motor skills tests or balance tests to determine if the possibility of a medication abuse existed,” the report reads.
A blood test given at 1 p.m. did not show that Hutchison was intoxicated, but Montgomery said the test should have been taken immediately upon his arrival to the hospital.
“He killed two people that morning, and it was all his fault,” Montgomery said. “And we can’t prove him wrong on it because of the negligence of the CHP.”
Her lawsuit, filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, claims Hutchison is a “habitual user of narcotics.”
Hutchison could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
According to the CHP report, Hutchison once weighed 575 pounds but had surgery that resulted in significant weight loss. He was taking fentanyl and Oxycontin for a bad back and knees and antibiotics for bronchitis.
According to the CHP report, Hutchison’s physician provided him with a letter of authorization to drive at the prescribed dosage and to perform his job as a heavy equipment operator.
Hutchison’s wife reportedly told the CHP he had been taking the medication in the same doses for “years” and did not abuse the drugs.
To charge a person with a felony in such a case, said Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham, the prosecution would have to show the driver was either intoxicated, grossly negligent or both. Gross negligence, he said, would entail reckless driving that any reasonable person would conclude would be dangerous.
Lacking proof of gross negligence or intoxication, he said, the prosecution charged Hutchison with misdemeanors.
“It was simple negligence,” Cunningham said. “In other words, it was an unsafe turn.”
Hollywood icon James Dean was killed when a motorist turned in front of him at the intersection in 1955.