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Valencia trial under way

Crime: Opening statements made for man facing up to 27 years if convicted for 2009 DUI

Posted: April 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

SAN FERNANDO — The man accused of murder for a July 2009 drunken-driving crash that left a bicyclist dead and several others injured had run several motorists off the road and swerved in and out of oncoming traffic moments before the fatal crash, witnesses testified in San Fernando Superior Court on Wednesday.

Marco Antonio Valencia, 22, allegedly plowed his Ford F-150 into a group of bicyclists along Bouquet Canyon Road, killing one. Valencia, who has been convicted of DUI twice before, has been charged with murder, DUI causing great bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident. He faces 27 years to life in state prison if convicted.

Valencia   quickly drove away after the crash without trying to help the people he had struck, Deputy District Attorney William Chung said during opening statements.

Chung said Valencia also knew that he could be charged with murder if he killed someone while driving drunk, since he had attended court-mandated DUI classes.

Valencia’s defense attorney Robert Wilder said he plans to call an expert witness to the stand to show that while Valencia was awake during the crash, he was not conscious.

On the morning of July 11, 2009, Valencia was allegedly driving drunk northbound on Bouquet Canyon when he allegedly drove his Ford F-150 head-on into a group of about 10 bicyclists who were riding on the southbound shoulder.

Stevenson Ranch resident Joseph Novotny, 43, was killed in the crash. Several other cyclists were injured.

“This case is, was and always will be a horrible tragedy,” Wilder told the 12-person jury. “But, I want you to convict Mr. Valencia of the crimes he is guilty of, not the crimes he is not.”

Witnesses said that the then-20-year-old Canyon Country resident was driving erratically moments before the crash.

Sheldon Haselwood testified that Valencia ran him off the road near the intersection of Bouquet Canyon and Alamogordo Road.

Haselwood said he pulled alongside the Ford that nearly hit his truck and saw Valencia in the driver seat. Valencia appeared intoxicated, he said.

“(Valencia) was sitting real low in his seat,” Haselwood said. “When I pulled alongside him, he looked at me and gave me the peace sign.”

Haselwood’s wife, who was sitting in the passenger seat, called 911 to report a potential drunken driver.

As Haselwood followed Valencia’s truck, Valencia side-swiped cars, ran other motorists off the road, drove off an embankment and through a wire fence as he drove north past Plum Canyon Road.

Valencia turned around and got back on Bouquet Canyon and continued north, Haselwood said. Bouquet Canyon curves east, but instead of following the curve, Valencia drifted into the southbound lanes.

Several cyclists riding in a single-file line in a dirt shoulder on the southbound side attempted to avoid the truck but were pinned by a mountainside.

“As (Valencia) started hitting the bicyclists, they had nowhere else to go,” Haselwood said.

About four cyclists were sideswiped by the truck, Haselwood said.

Novotny, who was the last rider in the line, was struck head-on and tossed about 35 feet into the air, struck the cliff and rolled to the street.

After trying to track down Valencia, who had driven away from the crash, Haselwood returned to the cyclists to try and help. Haselwood said Novotny was lying face down, motionless; his legs were twisted awkwardly.

As he described Novotny’s body, Haselwood paused and brushed tears from his eyes with a tissue.

Novotny, a Minnesota native, was an avid cyclist with more than 20 years of experience and an active member of Santa Clarita Velo, a cycling group. His wife, Jill Kantos, told jurors that they had recently moved to Stevenson Ranch, as Novotny became general manager at a Valencia liquid-filtration company.

That morning, after a light breakfast, Novotny left for a bicycle ride at 7 a.m., Kantos said.

That was the last time she saw him.

“After he got back from his ride, we were going to go shopping,” Kantos testified. “He said he would be home by noon.”

When Novotny didn’t return home at noon, she called his cellphone but got no response. Kantos then called a bike shop and was told her husband had died.


Later, the county coroner called her to identify her husband’s body.

“I was hoping they had the wrong person,” Kantos said. “I identified him by the inscription on his wedding ring.”

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