Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No DUI charges in California vehicular manslaughter of brother

California DUI Attorney news

Prosecutors have filed misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against a Salinas man in connection with an accident outside Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca that killed his brother.
Dominick Narigi, 19, will be arraigned this morning on a single count arising from the July 22 accident. While California Highway Patrol officials initially blamed the accident on alcohol, no such charges have been filed.

Assistant District Attorney Berkley Brannon said prosecutors have no way of knowing if Narigi was under the influence at the time because medical personnel at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center failed to take a blood-alcohol level the day of the accident.

Narigi, his 21-year-old brother, Anthony, and two others were leaving the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix motorcycle races at Laguna Seca, with Narigi at the wheel, when their 2002 GMC Yukon veered into a culvert for unknown reasons. The CHP said Narigi overcorrected and the vehicle rolled.

The rear passengers, who were wearing seatbelts, suffered only minor injuries, but Narigi and his brother were ejected. The brothers were airlifted to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, where Anthony was removed from life support three days later. Dominick Narigi underwent at least four surgeries before his release.

The accident prompted an outpouring of community support for the surviving brother and his parents, John and Roxanne Narigi. John Narigi has been general manager of the Monterey Plaza Hotel for 14 years and helped lead the renovation of Monterey High's football stadium, where Dominick was a star linebacker in 2006.
A 2004 Palma High School graduate, Anthony Narigi's memorial service was attended by more than 1,000 people.

In August, the CHP said it had ruled out mechanical failure and concluded that Dominick Narigi was driving under the influence and made an unsafe turn "due to the level of impairment."

Spokesman Larry Starkey said at the time that the CHP would recommend felony vehicular manslaughter and drunken-driving charges be filed and said it was investigating how the 18-year-old obtained alcohol at the races.

On Tuesday, Brannon said witnesses told the CHP that Narigi was drinking Red Bull and vodka at the Red Bull hospitality tent at the raceway. He then said his office's investigation was hampered when the witnesses and the passengers in the car hired lawyers and refused to speak to prosecutors unless subpoenaed.

The District Attorney's Office issued those subpoenas and planned to impanel a rare criminal grand jury this week, but released the witnesses when a negotiated settlement apparently was reached.

Brannon said Tuesday no deal was signed, but "I hope he comes in and pleads guilty tomorrow."

Defense attorney Paul Meltzer of Santa Cruz declined comment.

Brannon said his office never received evidence that would support criminal charges against anyone for providing alcohol to Narigi at the races. The evidence provided, he said, would support nothing but a charge of simple negligence, such as speeding or making an unsafe turn.

He said there are major differences between Narigi's case and those of defendants like Dana McCormick — who was convicted as a minor of felony vehicular manslaughter while drunk in an accident that killed two people at Lake San Antonio in 2004 — and Charles Seaborn, who is charged with felony vehicular manslaughter while drunk in the 2007 death of a Carmel bicyclist.

McCormick had previously been convicted of drunken-driving, she was racing at time of the accident and there was a blood-alcohol level taken immediately, he said. In Seaborn's case, Brannon alleged, tests were taken the next morning that can be extrapolated back to infer that he was drunk.

Witnesses reported Narigi had four drinks over the course of an entire day, the prosecutor said.

"All anyone knows is that drinks were being served at the Red Bull tent at Laguna Seca. But this is not a case where we can prove he was under the influence for purposes of driving," conceded the California DUI Prosecuting Attorney

California DUI defense attorneys applaud the DA's correct call.