On the second day of the trial against John Dungan — a Santa Barbara man charged with intentionally killing a Solvang woman and her two young children in a head-on collision on Highway 154 — the prosecution called three witnesses who were on the road near the deadly crash.
Deputy District Attorney Megan Chanda’s first witness on the stand was Nicholas Goddard, who was driving down the 154 from Los Gatos with his son, and whose GMC Yukon ended up directly behind the Chevy Volt driven by the victim, 34-year-old Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley, who was with her children, 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason, on October 25, 2019.
According to Goddard’s testimony, he first saw Dungan’s black Chevy Camaro once the vehicle was fully into their lane, at a high-rate of speed without swerving or skidding. Goddard veered to avoid the collision, and said he did not see the cars collide as his Yukon slid up against the hillside with the Volt pinned against its driver side.
Investigators say the Camaro hit the Volt head-on at nearly 120 miles-per hour, sending Bley through the windshield as her car spun around and caught fire with the children trapped inside. All three died instantly from the impact of the collision, and the children did not die from the fire or smoke inhalation.
Goddard described the aftermath, in which he went to check on the burning car with another passerby. The other passerby broke the car’s rear windows with a hammer in an attempt to save the children inside, though Goddard said the flames were too hot and he was forced to retreat. During that time, Goddard said that he and another stranger moved Bley’s body away from the fire.
Dungan’s defense attorney Jeremy Lessem attempted to find inconsistencies in Goddard’s statements, comparing his account on the day of the crash to Thursday’s testimony in Judge Thomas Adams’s courtroom. Lessem highlighted an earlier description in which Goddard told investigators he believed he saw the Camaro take corrective actions, and another similar statement made during preliminary hearings in 2020. Goddard conceded “he isn’t saying that the Camaro didn’t take corrective actions,” and that it had been too long since the occurrence to accurately recall the events.
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The prosecution’s second witness, recently retired Oxnard educator Carrie Purcell, was heading up the 154 in front of Dungan’s Camaro, and described her account of seeing the car pass her driver side window going over 90 miles-per-hour.
Purcell — like the other two witnesses on Thursday — admitted to not actually seeing the crash as she slammed on her brakes and pulled to the shoulder, but testified that she called 911 as bystanders ran to the scene. She said she was in shock, and another driver had to give her a ride up the road.
Lessem again challenged the consistency of Purcell’s statements, specifically an account she told authorities the day of the wreck that she believed she observed the Camaro “fishtail,” but in court she couldn’t recall or confirm if that took place.
The final witness of the day, Santa Barbara County employee Ashton Ellis, was another passerby to render aid in the aftermath of the crash. After pulling over near Bley’s Volt and seeing that several people were helping with the Yukon and the Volt, Ellis said she noticed no one had gone to the Camaro yet.
She went to check on the driver, taking a tablecloth from her car and wrapping it around Dungan’s bleeding head. She said she tried to keep him awake and talking, but he responded only with “painful moans.”
Ellis’s testimony led to Dungan pulling the courtroom faux pas of directly addressing the witness, saying “Thank you for saving my life,” and earning him a warning from his attorneys and the bailiff for potential tampering with a witness.
As with the previous witnesses called by the prosecution, the events before and after the collision are described with detail, but the accounts of the crash itself become blurry under cross-examination. In an earlier description Ellis offered officers at the scene, she said she saw the Volt spinning, but by the end of her testimony she admitted that the movement of the cars was the parts she remembered least.
The trial will continue with more witness testimony on Friday, June 17.