Man charged in fatal DUI case now awaits jury verdict

From the County Jail visiting room, a Bakersfield man charged in a fatal DUI accident told his sister he knew he’d wind up facing serious criminal charges one day.

“I know I was going to be here sooner or later,” Jerad Cross said during a secretly recorded conversation played for jurors this week. “It was just the way I was going.”

That statement, argued Deputy District Attorney Matt Kraut, proved Cross, 32, knew he was putting the public in harm’s way when he took the wheel of a 25,000-pound pickup truck while under the influence of prescription drugs.

The accident that followed -- one year ago on Thursday -- killed Richard Gamez, 45, of Clovis, who had stopped his vehicle at a construction site on Highway 46 near Paso Robles.

In his closing arguments to jurors, Kraut said Cross’s actions constitute second-degree murder because Cross knew driving while under the influence was dangerous, but did it anyway.

“This was a forceful, violent collision by somebody who committed murder,” Kraut told jurors.

Despite a troublesome driving history that included five speeding tickets, three at-fault accidents and a previous DUI, Cross’s attorney said his client didn’t think he was putting the public at risk when he agreed to help a friend make a delivery.

“He’s no angel,” said William Moore. “But he’s no second-degree murderer, either.”

Cross was initially a passenger in the F-350 pickup truck that morning, riding with a friend making a delivery for his job. As the two drove west, their truck pulling a trailer that held two large storage containers, Cross’s friend said he was too tired to drive.

“My client reluctantly took the wheel,” Moore said. But Cross, who had taken prescription drugs that morning and smoked meth the night before, was also tired, Moore said.

As he approached the construction site — after passing another motorist over a double-yellow line — he nodded off. A Caltrans employee tried to warn him of the two stopped vehicles ahead, but Cross didn’t wake up until the collision, which sent Gamez’s truck into the back of a stopped semi.

“Richard didn’t have a chance,” Kraut said.

Investigators later found several items of drug paraphernalia belonging to Cross in the Ford. Those items later tested positive for meth and prescription pain killers, Kraut said.

At the jail, Cross was callous when he spoke to his sister, Kraut said, telling her, “I wasn’t out there trying to (kill someone.)” When his sister asked if he felt bad about it, he said, “Yeah, I do. But I can’t let it kill me.”

The conversation, secretly recorded by jail staff, was played for jurors during the trial. Portions were replayed during Kraut’s closing argument.

Cross also faces lesser charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license and possession of drug paraphernalia. But Kraut pushed hard for the tougher murder charge, saying Cross’s driving history alone should have swayed Cross from driving.

“You’ve got (nine) interventions there that should make him realize he’s not the kind of person that should be behind the wheel of a car, whether it was under the influence or not,” Kraut said.

The defense conceded that Cross committed gross vehicular manslaughter. But, Moore said, murder doesn‘t apply because Cross didn’t think he was putting anyone in harm’s way by driving. Cross had helped his friend drive in the past without incident, Moore said, which Cross remembered when offering to help last year.

“He did not go out there knowing ‘My actions are going to be a danger to human life,’” Moore said. “He didn’t do this because he knew he was a menace on the road . . . This was just a stupid move — something that wasn’t thought through.”

Jury deliberations will begin Thursday.