The preliminary hearing for Joaquin Morales—facing three counts of felony vehicular manslaughter after the runaway truck he was driving down Highway 154 in August 2010 crashed into a State Street home, killing the occupants—began with testimony given by the California Highway Patrol officer who responded to the accident scene.
Morales was unable to slow down his truck, carrying approximately 50,000 pounds of concrete limestone, as it came down the mountain pass. He then ran through the Highway 154 and State Street intersection and drove the truck into a parking lot between the Hope Ranch Inn and Palapa restaurant. After hitting two parked cars in the back of the lot, the truck crashed into and spilled its load onto the home. Leon Leonel, 22, Lorena Tellez Pacheco, 26, and Jaciel Tellez, 8, were killed.
CHP Officer James Richardson testified that multiple witnesses who were driving behind Morales estimated the truck was driving at 45 to 50 mph and smoke was coming from the cab and first trailer of the truck.
Richardson added that those behind Morales also saw him attempt to pull off onto the shoulder, but the truck did not slow down and he was forced to pull back onto the road. The witnesses also said they backed off when the truck appeared to be having problems.
While under examination from Senior Deputy District Attorney Arnie Tolks, Richardson testified that the loading employee at the Bee Rock Quarry said Morales seemed like he was in a hurry as he pulled his truck forward before the load had been completed.
However, Morales’s defense attorney Mark Pachowicz asked Richardson if the loader had used “hurry” or any similar word specifically, or if that was his interpretation of the interview. According to Richardson’s report, the loader had simply told Morales: “The next time you come back, wait until I tell you to leave.”
Richardson further testified that Morales was responsible for his truck, and the company accountable for the trailers he pulled. The scale operator at the quarry told Richardson she never saw Morales get out of the cab to check his brakes before making his way down Highway 154.
Morales himself told Richardson in an interview a few days after the crash that he didn’t know a lot about his vehicle’s mechanics and had had brake problems in the past, including a citation for improper brake adjustment earlier in the year. Richardson added that Morales said he did not check the brakes the night before.
Richardson finished the day testifying that after speaking with a commercial officer, he felt Morales should have dumped his load on a shoulder on Highway 154 prior to reaching the bottom.
Pachowicz questioned if Richardson had the expertise to concluded this from witness interviews or if he thought it would be safe to do so with the traffic behind Morales.
The hearing continues today.