Crime

Medication, not heroin, led to crash that killed Los Osos teen, attorney says

Alexander Gonzales appears in court Monday, June 23, 2014, for his initial arraignment on charges of driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in connection with a crash that killed Jackson Garland, 18, of Los Osos.
Alexander Gonzales appears in court Monday, June 23, 2014, for his initial arraignment on charges of driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in connection with a crash that killed Jackson Garland, 18, of Los Osos. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A Paso Robles man charged with gross vehicular manslaughter had been injected with anti-addiction medication just minutes before the fatal crash, his attorney argued in court Thursday.

And it was that medicine, the attorney said, that made Alexander Gonzales, 22, pass out as he drove home from his doctor’s office.

But the District Attorney’s Office says there’s no evidence to suggest that any drug other than heroin and methamphetamine caused him to veer into oncoming traffic, killing a Los Osos teen.

Gonzales has been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence resulting in great bodily injury for a June 18, 2014, crash that killed 18-year-old Jackson Garland.

Gonzales appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Thursday on pre-trial motions. During the hearing, defense attorney Darryl Genis argued that an anti-addiction drug called Vivitrol caused Gonzales to crash, not heroin or methamphetamine.

According to police reports, Gonzales was driving north on South Bay Boulevard in Los Osos around 5 p.m. in a rented 2013 Dodge Charger as Garland was driving south in a 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier. Witnesses said Gonzales was driving erratically and weaving for 10 seconds before his car crashed into Garland’s at 73 mph.

No brake marks were found on the road.

After the crash, according to a pre-sentence report filed by the prosecution, witnesses at the scene, including an off-duty State Parks ranger, said Gonzales was nodding off and that his eyes were rolling back in his head. After Gonzales was taken to a hospital, the document notes, he allegedly told CHP Officer J. McEwen he had injected drugs into his right hand.

During a preliminary hearing in July, Darrell Mackinga, a CHP officer, testified that he asked Gonzales after the accident if he had taken drugs on that day.

“He indicated he took meth and heroin approximately half an hour apart from each other,” Mackinga testified, according to a court transcript.

When he asked Gonzales when he took the drugs, he testified, Gonzales told him 4 p.m.

But Genis said Gonzales only said 4 o’clock — and meant 4 in the morning, more than 12 hours before the accident.

According to a defense investigative report obtained by The Tribune, Gonzales had been treated for his addiction by Kenneth Starr, a physician in Los Osos, since April 2014.

On the day of the accident, according to the report, Gonzales visited Starr a little before 4 p.m. and received an injection of Vivitrol sometime between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

According to the Center for Behavioral Health, Vivitrol blocks opioids from acting on the receptors in the brain and can also help ease drug cravings. By blocking the effects of other opioids, it takes away the pleasurable effect.

The shot is not supposed to be administered if a patient has taken heroin the same day, Genis said. When Starr’s staff asked Gonzales if he had taken heroin that day, Gonzales said no.

“Addicts lie,” Genis told The Tribune. “That’s what they do. ”

Instead of testing Gonzales to see if he had signs of drugs in his system, the staff took his word, Genis said.

“They gave him the injection,” he said.

In the past, Genis said, staff had tested Gonzales and discovered he had recently used, which led to them denying him Vivitrol that day.

Starr could not be reached for comment Thursday.

At the crash site, according to the preliminary hearing, witnesses said Gonzales had dilated eyes, was falling asleep and had a higher than usual heart rate.

“He was very sleepy,” Mackinga testified. “His eyes were rolling back in his head.”

Mackinga testified that a drug recognition expert told him those were signs of drug intoxication.

Later, heroin and methamphetamine were found in Gonzales’s blood, according to the prosecution document.

“Our client clearly, indisputably was an addict at and before this accident,” Genis told The Tribune. But, he added, the effect of meth and heroin would have worn off by the time of the accident.

“There’s no drug that I’m aware of that would last that long, except maybe LSD,” Genis said.

Vivitrol should not be given to anyone who has had opiates within the past seven to 10 days, according to the defense report. The combination of the drugs, Genis said, would make someone lose consciousness.

In court, he said, Gonzales drifted across the road, onto the opposite shoulder.

“That’s consistent with somebody who passed out,” he said.

The prosecution, however, contends that Gonzales had a drug kit in his car and fresh injection wounds. And there’s no evidence, they say, that Vivitrol had more to do with Gonzales’s condition than meth or heroin — or that Gonzales took drugs at 4 a.m.

According to Mackinga’s testimony and the prosecution document, Gonzales admitted to feeling the effects of meth and heroin while driving and said afterward that he should not have driven. Falling asleep, Mackinga testified, is “a big indicator of heroin.”

“The facts of their case are inconsistent with the evidence,” said deputy district attorney Greg Devitt.

According to the defense report, Gonzales had been using heroin roughly three times a day for three or four years.

As an addict, Genis said, Gonzales should not have been driving. But, he said, the accident could have been prevented if his doctor has tested him beforehand.

Given the Vivitrol information, Genis had argued there was not enough evidence to justify pursuing a gross vehicular manslaughter charge after the preliminary hearing. But Judge Rita Federman said Gonzales’s symptoms after the accident were “all consistent with the recent use of controlled substances.”

As a result, the gross vehicular manslaughter charge will remain, though Genis can still use the Vivitrol defense before a jury.

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