D.A. pledges stiff penalties for repeat drunken drivers | September 26, 2008 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Newsfront - September 26, 2008

D.A. pledges stiff penalties for repeat drunken drivers

Murder conviction was sought in 2003 DUI incident

by Geoff Gillette

For many people, getting pulled over, going through a field sobriety test and getting arrested for driving under the influence would be enough. In cases like that, the law does its job.

But what about people who get DUI after DUI until the unthinkable happens and someone ends up hospitalized, or worse?

Contra Costa County District Attorney Robert Kochly said those offenders can expect to see some long jail time.

During an address at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Exchange Club of the San Ramon Valley, Kochly talked about a tragic Danville case where his office sought homicide convictions in a fatal drunken driving accident.

Kochly said his office had always taken a hard line stance on the issue of drunken driving, but one incident in particular drove home the point that such drivers need to be taken off the roads.

"Oct. 26th, 2003, brought the issue of drunk driving home. That's the day that Troy and Alana Pack were run over by a drunk driver who had convictions and no license." He added, "I know I will not forget that date, or the year and a half that followed."

In that case, the Pack children, ages 10 and 7, were riding a bike and scooter along Camino Tassajara past the intersection of Crow Canyon Road when a car driven by 48-year-old Jimena Barreto left the road and came up onto the sidewalk where it struck the two children, fatally injuring both.

After the accident, Barreto tried to flee the scene, but the children's mother took the keys out of the car to prevent her escape. Kochly said Barreto showed absolutely no remorse over what she had just done. "The defendant was remarkable in that all she was worried about was herself."

Before she could be arrested, Barreto hitched a ride with a passing motorist and fled the scene. She was arrested two days later in San Jose but the damage was already done. "When she fled she deprived us of the most crucial evidence ... her blood alcohol level," Kochly explained.

In most cases of a DUI-related fatality, the District Attorney's Office would seek charges of vehicular manslaughter. But in the Barreto case, Kochly said stiffer charges needed to be brought. "When you have a person who's been convicted of DUI, they go through alcohol rehabilitation classes. Those tell you what the risks are."

Kochly explained that under the law if Barreto knew that driving under the influence could have deadly consequences, she acted with malice aforethought by choosing to drink and get in the car.

Despite the hard evidence of the blood alcohol level, Kochly was able to mount an effective case as dozens of people came forward to testify to Barreto's drinking prior to the accident and drivers who saw her weaving just before the car left the road.

A jury found Barreto guilty in May 2005. A month later she was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. One appeal of the conviction has been denied. Another appeal is currently in the legal system.

Kochly said a case like Barreto's is exactly the kind where prosecutors should seek higher penalties. "Drinking and driving after they've already had arrests and rehabilitation classes goes to their state of mind, their conscious knowledge that what they're doing is dangerous and people are likely to be killed if they do it again."

The District Attorney said that in fatality cases where the defendant has multiple DUI arrests, they will push for a homicide conviction as fervently as they did in the Barreto case.

Currently, there are no cases on the docket in Contra Costa County where a homicide conviction is being sought.