LANCASTER – A 19-year-old Palmdale driver who slammed into a group of motorcyclists on Oct. 19 told investigators he sped around the curve intentionally because he was “pumped up” after overtaking several vehicles on the winding Elizabeth Lake road, according to witness testimony.
The testimony came Wednesday at the preliminary hearing for Jose Gutierrez, who is charged with vehicular manslaughter and three counts of reckless driving causing specified injury. The charges stem from a head-on collision Oct. 19 on Elizabeth Lake Road that killed 58-year-old Oxnard resident Peter Volden and critically injured three others.
Gutierrez was driving a 2001 Infiniti G20 eastbound on the two-lane road when he lost control of his car, veered into the oncoming lane, and crashed head-on into three westbound motorcycles, according to a California Highway Patrol report.
At Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, CHP officers and the three injured victims – Danny Rincon, Richard and Patricia McBee – gave testimony on the moments before and after the crash.
She and her husband were on the last bike in a group of seven motorcycles headed home after a picnic at Devil’s Punchbowl, testified a now wheelchair-bound Patricia McBee.
“[Gutierrez] was hauling, enough to make me notice he was speeding around that corner,” Patricia McBee said, when asked about the speed of the oncoming car.
“I saw the car swerve and I knew then that we were in trouble,” Patricia McBee testified. She said she remembered being struck and thrown over the car.
“Through my helmet I could see things tumbling,” she said, adding that she was fully conscious when she hit the ground.
“It knocked the wind out of me so bad, and I thought I was gonna die because I couldn’t breathe,” Patricia McBee testified.
Richard McBee said he did not remember being struck by the car, but he remembered being face up on the ground with his wife lying across his legs at a 90-degree angle. He was on the road for about 15 minutes, only able to move his finger and toes, before help came, Richard McBee testified.
The third victim, Danny Rincon, said he remembered a car speeding around the corner and crossing into their lane after a “series of overcorrections.” Rincon said there was no time for him to react, and he could only close his eyes and flinch.
“I thought it was my moment,” Rincon testified.
CHP Officer K. Wheeler said he interviewed Gutierrez after the crash. The teen said he had passed four vehicles before the crash, and he was “pumped up” after having passed the vehicles, Wheeler testified.
Gutierrez told investigators he was traveling about 75 miles per hour, he had intentionally passed cars prior to the crash, and he had intentionally sped around the corner, Wheeler testified. The teen also told investigators he had his driver’s license for approximately one year and friends had warned him about speeding in the past, Wheeler testified.
Gutierrez’s defense attorney argued that some of the charges should be reduced or dismissed based on his client’s inexperience behind the wheel and the fact that Gutierrez could not have foreseen the crash.
Judge Christopher Estes denied the motion and ordered Gutierrez to stand trial on all charges. A second arraignment on the case is set for Dec. 20. If convicted as charged, Gutierrez faces a maximum sentence of eight years in state prison.
Previous related stories: