WESTMINSTER (CNS) - A 29-year-old Garden Grove man was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in prison for an alcohol-fueled collision that killed a bicyclist in Huntington Beach.
Victor Manuel Romero, who has a prior conviction for drunk driving, was convicted Nov. 16 of second-degree murder and hit-and-run causing permanent and serious injury. He was convicted of killing 33-year-old transient Raymond MacDonald March 30, 2019.
Romero "acted with shocking indifference to human life," Senior Deputy District Attorney Janine Madera said in a sentencing brief. "He drank a large amount of alcohol without the barest plan to get home without driving and then went to great lengths to drive ... something many people and his past experience warned him about. Those warnings included two officers who asked the defendant how he was getting home."
Madera said the defendant's probation report indicated he didn't yet accept full responsibility.
"Reading the probation report and seeing the defendant does not think he has a problem with alcohol and indicating that he would still drink on rare occasions is at first astounding, but then you read the rest of his statement where he blames what happened on the fight and you realize he has not yet accepted responsibility for his actions," Madera said.
Romero's evening "started at Hurricane Bar and Grill" in Huntington Beach, Madera said, adding that the defendant drove to the bar in his BMW and later got into a fist fight in the parking lot. Police were flagged down.
`By the time they got there the fight is over, but what they can see is objective signs of intoxication and they ask him how are you going to get home, Madera said in her opening statement of the trial.
He told one officer he would call for an Uber, and he told another minutes later that his sister would pick him up, Madera said.
But instead, he got into a parking garage elevator with a witness, Richard Cole, who saw Romero's torn shirt and his inebriated state, the prosecutor said. Cole asked Romero if he was going to drive, "and he says, `Yeah,' and he (Cole) tries to tell him that's not a good idea," Madera said.
Romero, who went "screeching" out of the parking lot, crashed into the Cadillac owned by the bar manager, Geronimo Gutierrez, Madera said.
A short time later, he slammed into MacDonald at Beach Boulevard and Adams Avenue, Madera said. An Uber driver saw the defendant speeding through a red light before striking the bicyclist, according to the prosecutor.
Romero kept going until he slammed into a tree at Adams Avenue and Lake Street, Madera said. Another witness, Christopher Groh, said Romero passed him at such a high rate of speed his car shook, she said. Groh got out of his car to help Romero, but by the time he got there the defendant had run away, Madera said.
Romero ended up back at the Hurricane Bar, where he told Gutierrez that it wasn't him who crashed into the bar manager's Cadillac, Madera said.
"The defendant tells Mr. Gutierrez, `I was carjacked. It wasn't me,"' Madera said.
Romero still had the car's key around his neck and police checked to make sure it matched the BMW, Madera said. Later, investigators collected MacDonald's DNA from the outside of the car, the prosecutor added.
Romero's blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.18, more than twice the legal limit, two hours after the crash, Madera said. He also had marijuana in his system, the prosecutor added.
In 2012, Romero pleaded guilty to driving drunk and was given what authorities call a Watson advisement, which warns DUI offenders that if they get caught drunk driving again and kill someone, they will face charges upgraded from manslaughter to murder, Madera said.
"When questioned by police, he remembered that warning," Madera said.
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