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Fatal crash driver had priors

20-year-old suspect in DUI hit-and-run killing of bicyclist had previous convictions

Posted: July 13, 2009 10:56 p.m.
Updated: July 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The 20-year-old Canyon Country man accused in the drunk-driving killing of a bicyclist on Bouquet Canyon Road Saturday had two previous DUI convictions in as many years, court records show.

In 2007, a then-teenage Marco Antonio Valencia was convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the Santa Clarita Valley.

He was convicted again last year when he ran into a power pole near Canyon High School, knocking out electricity to nearby residents for hours.

And on Saturday, Valencia was apparently driving drunk with a suspended license when he plowed his northbound pickup truck into a group of oncoming bicyclists on a winding stretch of Bouquet Canyon Road, killing one and injuring two others, California Highway Patrol Officer George White said Monday.

Those convictions are just a few on a list of charges Valencia has faced since 2006 — a rap sheet that also includes illegal drug and alcohol possession, selling tear gas and obstructing police officers.

He was arrested at least three times before for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and convicted twice, according to Los Angeles Superior Court records.

He is set to be charged and arraigned today in San Fernando Superior Court, said Los Angeles County District Attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison. He was being held on $1.1 million bail.

Blood alcohol results are still pending for his Saturday arrest, officials said.

Valencia’s alleged collision with a group of bicyclists Saturday morning — which killed Stevenson Ranch resident Joe Novotny, 43, and injured two others — followed a series of crashes and close-calls along Bouquet Canyon Road, witnesses and investigators said.

Shortly before the 11 a.m. crash, Saugus resident Sheldon Haselwood said a dark blue Ford F-150 nearly sideswiped his vehicle. Haselwood pulled up alongside the pickup truck at a Bouquet Canyon Road stop light near Central Park and looked at the driver.

“It was this kid. He was sitting kind of low in the seat, his eyes were kind of puffy,” Haselwood said. “He looked over at me and gave me a ‘peace’ sign.”

Haselwood, 43, got on his cell phone and started following the truck, reporting information to sheriff’s deputies.

He said the truck kept drifting across lanes, running up onto the sidewalk and the median. At one point, Haselwood and highway patrol officers said, Valencia ran into a chain-link fence near David Way.

Each time the truck swerved off the road, it would stop, back up, then start down the street again.

Haselwood said he followed the driver as he began weaving back and forth on the narrow, winding stretch of Bouquet Canyon Road past Plum Canyon Road. The truck skidded and crossed into oncoming traffic as it took the road’s blind curves.

Several cars had to swerve onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision, Haselwood said.

“We come around the curve and then there’s about 10 guys on bikes,” he said.

The truck crossed the double-yellow lines near the Big Oaks Lodge and slammed into the single-file line of bicyclists on the opposite shoulder, Haselwood and investigators said.

“They had no place to go,” Haselwood said. “My wife’s screaming as he’s taking these bicycles out. The last guy in the line gets hit by the truck. This guy flies 20 feet ... doing somersaults in the air.”

The truck sped off, and Haselwood lost him. He pulled over to help the bicyclists; one had broken his hand, another was leaning up against a rock, panting, with back injuries. And the third, Novotny, was lying face-down, motionless.

“I couldn’t — I just couldn’t believe it. It was like watching a horrible movie,” he said. “When you see it in real life, it was like — it just didn’t seem real to me, that it was really happening. That this guy was laying right there in front of me and I was putting the blanket on him.”

Sheriff’s deputies arrived just moments too late, Haselwood said. By 12:30 p.m., they had arrested Valencia near Elizabeth Lake Road.

CHP Officer White, an investigator in the case, described some of the damage to the truck: Fresh scrapes from prior crashes on the right side of the vehicle and “impact damage from maybe a helmet on the lower left of the windshield. He fled the scene. Obviously, he knew what happened.”

The bicyclists were all members of the Santa Clarita Velo cycling club. Club member Thomas Barron said Monday that Novotny was a native of Belgium who had only recently moved to the Santa Clarita Valley.

He described Novotny and the other bikers on the ride as “very skilled,” and, though he wasn’t there when the collision occurred, added it didn’t seem as though anyone could have avoided the careening truck.

“It shook everybody up really good,” Barron said. “We’re all taking stock on our mortality.”

blowrey@the-signal.com

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