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Witness: Valencia not alert at time of crash

Crime: Defense claims driver could not have been aware of consequences at time of fatal crash in ’09

Posted: April 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

SAN FERNANDO — Marco Valencia was probably unconscious behind the wheel when his truck plowed into a group of bicyclists on Bouquet Canyon Road in 2009, a neuropsychologist testified Monday during Valencia’s murder trial.

If Valencia, 22, of Canyon Country, is to be convicted of second-degree murder, the 12-person jury must find that Valencia acted with implied malice and disregard for human life when he got behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 truck, court officials said.

Valencia’s defense attorney Robert Wilder argued his client couldn’t have been aware of the consequences of his actions at the time of the crash if he was clinically unconscious.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said Valencia was fully aware of the dangers of drunken driving before he drank his first beer that night, since he had been convicted of DUI twice before.

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

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

Valencia was arrested minutes later about 15 miles north of the crash.

Neuropsychologist Ari Kalechstein, testifying for the defense, said Valencia was so intoxicated that he didn’t comprehend the danger he had put other Saugus motorists and pedestrians in.

Although Valencia was physically able to drive, he was intoxicated to the point of being considered clinically unconscious, Kalechstein said.

“If (a clinically unconscious person) wanted to, they could walk over to their car and put the key in the ignition,” Kalechstein said. “The problem is, oftentimes they can’t remember what they did and they can’t think before they act or comprehend the consequences of their actions.”

Kalechstein said he formed his opinion of Valencia’s state of mind at the time of the crash after reviewing witness testimony and toxicology reports that measured Valencia’s blood alcohol content at .23 after the crash.

Deputy District Attorney William Chung questioned the validity of Kalechstein’s opinion during cross examination.

Chung pointed out that before Valencia started drinking, Valencia knew the risks of driving drunk. Valencia, who is not scheduled to testify during his trial, took court-mandated DUI classes explaining the risks before the fatal crash.

Kalechstein paused for several seconds before answering Chung’s questions and asked for the questions to be worded differently.

When he did answer the questions, Kalechstein spoke in scientific jargon that Chung said would be confusing to jurors.

“Can you step outside of your scientific field for one second and talk to me as a human being?” Chung asked.

Kalechstein said he was insulted by the question.

Valencia could be sentenced to up to 27 years to life if convicted of murder. The Canyon Country resident is also charged with DUI causing great bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident.

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