Defendant John Dungan is accused of intentionally driving his Chevy Camaro (above) into victim Rebecca Vanessa Bley’s Chevy Volt at over 100 miles per hour, killing Bley and her two young children. | Credit: Mike Eliason/SBCo Fire

In the trial of a Santa Barbara man charged with three counts of first-degree murder following a high-speed collision on Highway 154 that resulted in the deaths of a Solvang woman and her two young children, Deputy District Attorney Megan Chanda presented the prosecution’s opening arguments, in which she likened the actions of the defendant, 31-year-old John Dungan, to a ticking time bomb ready to explode.

“Tick, tick, tick, BOOM,” Chanda shouted, slamming the podium in Judge Thomas Adams’s Department 1 courtroom with her fist and going on to describe Dungan’s actions on that day as a “mission of self-destruction and demise.”

Joining Chanda in the prosecution is Deputy DA Stephen Wagner, and the team started laying out the case against Dungan Monday afternoon. Dungan stands accused of intentionally killing 34-year-old Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley and her two children — 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason — in a head-on collision on October 25, 2019.

The prosecution and defense teams painted two similar but ultimately opposing pictures of the day of the crime. The prosecutors are looking to convict him on three charges of murder, claiming he purposely veered into the opposite lane, while Dungan pleaded not guilty and maintains the collision was not on purpose.

Chanda detailed the severity of the crash, saying that Dungan’s 2013 Chevy Camaro went “through” Bley’s Chevy Volt at more than 100 miles per hour, causing Bley to be launched from the windshield and her car to stop in its tracks, spinning 150 degrees before ultimately catching fire with the two children trapped inside.

According to investigators, all three died instantly from the impact of the collision, and the children did not die from the fire or smoke inhalation. Dungan was critically injured in the collision and transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. 

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Chanda also laid out a timeline stretching back to February 2019, when Dungan was placed on a 72-hour involuntary hold after police found 16 firearms, body armor, and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition at his residence. Police were originally sent on a welfare check after Dungan sent several texts that “appeared to be suicidal/homicidal in nature.” 

The next month, Dungan was charged separately with stalking an ex-girlfriend, carrying a concealed weapon, and possessing a large-capacity magazine for a firearm.

On the day of his crash, Chanda said, Dungan’s mother found the following note:

“I never hurt anyone with my guns. I never planned to hurt anyone with my guns. I never took steps to hurt anyone with my guns. I never threatened anybody and I certainly never stalked anyone. I am too sensitive for the reality and I am done allowing an unjust justice system to push me around and bully me. I love you all, goodbye — John Dungan.”

Dungan’s defense team, led by Los Angeles attorney Jeremy Lessem, said that those close to Dungan constantly dealt with these types of “dramatic, self-important communications” but contested that Dungan never attempted to harm himself. 

After the crash, Dungan was seen by a clinical psychiatrist at the hospital, who did not find any evidence to suggest a suicide attempt.

Lessem explained that Dungan was on the 154 at the time of the incident because he had traveled to the Chumash Casino to play poker instead of heading back to the recovery center he had been ordered to stay at. The defense team said it would be calling witnesses to testify that they saw Dungan’s vehicle attempt to take corrective actions right before the crash.

The trial’s first witness called by the prosecution was Max Gleason, Bley’s husband and the father of the children killed in the collision. He recounted his version of events, which included plans to meet with Bley at the Santa Barbara Bowl for an evening concert with his sister and brother-in-law. After realizing his wife was late and attempting to contact her through texts and calls, it was Gleason’s brother-in-law who first saw the report of a car crash on the 154. Gleason also described Bley’s familiarity with the highway and crash site at the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge, as well as the condition of the Volt. 

In December 2020, Gleason received $2.985 million in a settlement in a civil suit against Dungan and his father, Michael.

The trial will continue on Thursday, June 16.

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