Several more witnesses took the stand on the third day of the trial against John Dungan — the 31-year-old Santa Barbara man facing three counts of first degree murder after a high-speed collision that killed a Solvang woman and her two children on Highway 154 in October 2019 — providing firsthand, often emotional accounts of the crash and following investigation.
Custody Deputy Derrick Day’s voice broke as he recounted the events, describing how he and his partner, Ryan Southwick, attempted to rescue the two children — 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason — from their burning vehicle. Tears welled up in Day’s eyes as he told the jury how the fire’s intensity increased as it engulfed the car and raged up the hillside, and how he reached into the backseat to try to free the children from their safety restraints. It was also his partner, he said, that was one of the first to find the body of their mother, 34-year-old Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley, who had been ejected from the car’s driver seat.
Investigators said Dungan’s Chevy Camaro smashed head on into the family’s Chevy Volt at nearly 120 miles-per-hour, sending Bley through the windshield and trapping the children inside. All three died on impact.
Another witness, California Highway Patrol Sergeant Matthew Marien, also broke down when detailing the emotional gravity of the case and the distress it brought to himself and fellow investigating officers. The cars involved in the accident were stored at the CHP’s station lot, both “burned to hulk,” he said, and after a mechanical inspection they were moved to an offsite location. Marien said he was “looking out for the officers’ emotional well-being” when he made the decision to move the cars off CHP property, after his team told him it was difficult to work with the cars on the lot being a daily reminder, given the emotional weight of the case.
Several emergency personnel also testified in Judge Thomas Adams’s courtroom Friday, including paramedic Mark Petersen, who responded to the scene and was directed to Dungan’s Camaro, where he found a “deformed window and interior pressed up against his body.” Petersen said he soon called the fire department for an extraction process, and later placed Dungan on a spinal board and gurney to be airlifted to Cottage Hospital.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
Flight nurse Carrie Camacho talked about the “precarious landing” of the helicopter near the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge before transporting Dungan. Both Camacho and Petersen testified that Dungan did not have the court-ordered GPS monitor on his ankle at the time of the accident, suggesting that it was taken off before he drove into the opposing lane. The ankle monitor was a part of the probation terms of a previous charge against Dungan, and was later traced to the intersection of the 154 and East Camino Cielo, less than five miles away from the scene of the accident.
Witness Peter Lancucki was another civilian driving down the 154 on the scene that day. In his testimony, Lancucki detailed the severity of the crash and his experience rushing to help Dungan, the only survivor of the head-on collision. “The whole front had been crumpled,” he said, describing the condition of Dungan’s Camaro. Lancucki also said that it appeared that the defendant’s limbs were bent and “in places they shouldn’t have been.”
Today, under the high ceilings in Judge Adam’s Department 1 courtroom, more than two and a half years after the accident which claimed three lives, Dungan sits upright from behind the defense’s counsel table, often leaning back in his chair and staring blankly as witnesses recount the incident and as images from the crash — featuring burning cars and debris — are projected on a screen. If convicted of even one of the three counts of felony murder, he faces 25 years to life in prison. His defense team, led by attorney Jeremy Lassem, hopes to raise doubt in the prosecution’s contention that Dungan swerved into the opposite lane with the intent to kill himself and whomever he collided with.
Also in the gallery, attending each day of the trial, is Bley’s husband and father of the children, Max Gleason. On the first day of the trial, Gleason testified and recounted the day from his point of view. He expected to meet his wife at a concert later that evening, and was notified when his brother-in-law saw a report of the crash. Each day, Gleason sits with his parents, who could be seen fighting back tears during some of the witness testimony.
The trial, which was supposed to continue on Monday, June 20, was postponed for one week and will continue with more witness testimony on June 27.